Our ‘plas­tic’ brain sup­ports the feel­ings we choose

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

For cen­turies we be­lieved that the brain was hard wired. That we were born with a brain lim­ited by the ge­netic makeup of our rel­a­tives. It was as­sumed that the brain at some early point in life, was a “done deal.”

In the last few decades re­search has re­vealed that the brain is not hard wired. Not only that, the brain is con­stantly recre­at­ing it­self up un­til the day we die — lit­er­ally build­ing new struc­ture — based on the mind state that we main­tain on a mo­ment by mo­ment ba­sis.

If we are in a pos­i­tive mind state, our brain builds neu­ral path­ways to sup­port that mind state. Con­versely, when we are in a neg­a­tive mind state, our brain builds neu­ral path­ways to sup­port that neg­a­tive state of mind.

By stay­ing in a neg­a­tive mind state we are en­cour­ag­ing our brain to sup­port that mind state.

This is what the brain does. It is con­stantly cre­at­ing new neu­ral path­ways to sup­port the state of mind we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing right now. If we are de­pressed it will sup­port that mind state and cre­ate new path­ways, or sup­port ex­ist­ing neu­ral path­ways that en­cour­age the neg­a­tive mind state we have cho­sen.

This phe­nom­e­non is known as neu­ral-plas­tic­ity. Un­der­stand­ing neu­ral-plas­tic­ity re­veals the im­por­tance of hav­ing strate­gies to take ad­van­tage of the brains abil­ity to sup­port what­ever mind state we choose to be in.

The word “choose” is crit­i­cal. It im­plies that we can choose our state of mind in “the mo­ment.”

In fact, life only hap­pens in the mo­ment. The past is gone, and the fu­ture has not ar­rived. The only power we have is right now, in this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment. Ever ything we do hap­pens in “this” mo­ment. No mat­ter how much we ag­o­nize over what hap­pened in the past we can­not change it. And our only pos­si­ble chance of ef­fect­ing the fu­ture is to take ac­tion now.

Chronic run­away stress that I spoke of in my last let­ter to the ed­i­tor, keeps us in the neg­a­tive mind state of re­gret­ting the past and feel­ing anx­i­ety for what we fear the fu­ture will bring. When stressed, we have lost our abil­ity to op­er­ate in the mo­ment.

Un­der­stand­ing the pro­gres­sion from stress to chronic run­away stress to de­pres­sion gives us the in­sight and mo­ti­va­tion to learn and use skills that al­low us to cre­ate a new nor­mal for our phys­i­ol­ogy and to un­der­stand how to choose how we feel from mo­ment to mo­ment.

In the next let­ter, we will ex­am­ine the prac­tice of mind­ful­ness, in­clud­ing a sim­ple mind­ful­ness skill that helps us to be mind­ful in the mo­ment and live stress free. Mind­ful­ness skills al­low us to take charge of our phys­i­ol­ogy and choose how to feel from mo­ment to mo­ment. These skills are used by Navy Seals to op­er­ate at their high­est and best un­der the most chal­leng­ing con­di­tions.

John Sta­ples, Bryans Road The writer is the pro­gram man­ager for War On Stress, a project of United Char­i­ta­ble, a 501(c)3 non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

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