Over the last decade the advent of very high strength magnetic resonance imaging capabilities has afforded neuro-scientists the chance to validate assumptions about how our brains function and influence how we live and feel. What we’ve learned is that over our lifetimes we have the opportunity to build new and better neuro-connections in our brains. So, if we want to truly awaken to our own potential or simply begin our journey to unleashing new possibilities for our lives science now affirms, we can!
In a recent Harvard Medical School Special Health Report on Positive Psychology we learn that while many researchers have studied positive emotions by observing human and animal behavior, others are now trying to discover what is actually happening inside the brain at the structural and molecular levels. “Researchers now agree that there is a biological aspect to happiness, and the brain is the command center for the chemical and physiological changes that occur in the body with positive emotions. Researchers found that the neurotransmitter dopamine activates the reward system and is associated with positive emotions, exuberance and desire. The dopamine reward system may also be associated with addictions, in which people develop uncontrollable urges to repeatedly engage in pleasurable but harmful behaviors such as taking drugs, gambling or viewing pornography. Another group of chemicals called endorphins, are also associated with pleasurable feelings, such as those created by eating chocolate or a runner’s high. Endorphins released in the brain also increase the release of dopamine.”
By understanding what contributes to this chemical production in our brains we can essentially learn to build new brain connections that create positive feelings. These positive experiences like feeling grateful, loved and loving, or satisfaction derived from an accomplishment or a contribution, can become a natural response that is reinforced by our physiology. Have you ever wondered why encouraging, grateful and optimistic individuals seems to see the world through a positive lens and a sense of abundance versus limitations and boundaries; it may be because their physiology is programmed to see a world filled with possibilities and promise. Let's take gratitude for example. Gratitude is encouraged not just by its inherent psychological benefits, but because as we participate in giving gratitude to others, our brains respond by releasing chemicals that over time build new connections that make it more likely for us to be sincerely grateful.
Dr. Joe Dispenza in his best-selling book Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon, he focuses attention on “Reconditioning the Body to a New Mind.” According to Dr. Dispenza, “when your brain is in action, you are in fact, turning on a specific sequence, pattern and combination of neurological networks. These neural networks are simply clusters of neurons that work together as a community – just like an automatic software program or a macro – because you’ve done that particular action so frequently.” Think about walking, driving a car, reading a book, shaking a hand – your brain is in action turning on specific sequences of neurological networks even though these actions are embedded into your brain and require very little, if any, conscious choice.
“For the most part, your brain is a product of the past,” he explains. “It has been shaped and molded to become a living record of everything you have learned and experienced up to this point. Learning, from a scientific standpoint, is when neurons in your brain assemble to form thousands of synaptic connections and those connections then assemble into complex, three-dimensional neurological networks.” Both learning and experiences build these connections. Dr. Dispenza encourages us to think of emotions as the chemical residue from past experiences. The stronger the emotional quotient from an event in our lives, the more the experience leaves a lasting impression in our brain, thus forming long-term memories. Yet, all learning builds new connections and the more we repeat a thought, choice, behavior, experience or emotion, the more our neurons fire and wire together and the more they will sustain a long term relationship.
“When you fire and wire the same circuits in your brain over and over again because you keep thinking the same thoughts, you are hardwiring your brain into the same patterns. As a result, your brain becomes an artifact of your past thinking, and in time it becomes easier to automatically think in the same ways. At the same time, as you repeatedly feel the same emotions over and over again, you are conditioning your body into the past.” What Dr. Dispenza is helping us see is the thesis put forth in my new book that will be published this fall; we truly are the sum of our habits. Yet, his research also highlights the physiological reality that once we are awakened and begin to systematically make different choices our brains will begin to wire in a dramatically different way offering us the distinct opportunity to get better every day…and over time to continuously become the best version of ourselves. The awesome design of the human brain literally enables us to become healthier, more peaceful and joy-filled, more productive or simply better overtime. We just have to be awakened to the possibility, and begin our journey!
So, let’s recap. Over our lifetimes, we’ve taught our brains a lot. The lens through which we see the world and the habits we’ve accumulated may or may not even be conscious, but in total these patterns and habits influence who we are, how we feel, and the daily choices we make. We now know, however, regardless of past experiences, habituated actions and feelings, we no longer need to allow them to limit who we become. The future is ours to create, and our brains will support our journey along our path to a better you and me. Let's begin today!