Much is being discovered about the human brain. I find the research fascinating as it relates to human behavior. One concept that I have always been intrigued by is the role of thought pathways in our lives. Researchers believe that each and every thought we have impacts us on a cellular level. Different pathways are formed based on thoughts we have while doing different things.
So many behavioral problems typically have underlying moving parts. Most of our behavior is connected to our thought processes whether we recognize this or not. Forming new thought pathways in our brain is essential for lasting happiness and behavioral change. If we want to lose weight, stop biting our fingernails, or not verbally react when angry, we must work to form new thought processes that will support a new response.
There is a story told of a farmer who had to cart his produce from his fields to a canal where his goods were shipped. He would place his supply in a wheel barrow each day and push it along the same path to the canal day after day. On a certain warm summer day the farmer was dutifully pushing his wheelbarrow down the same path. He noticed that the wheelbarrow was not easy to push anymore. Ruts had formed which made travel difficult. He noticed new rocks emerge that appeared too difficult to remove. The typical path that this farmer had taken for many days had become incredibly cumbersome. After finally getting to this destination, the farmer paused to consider his options. After much thought, he decided to form a new path above the old one. This new path took some effort and hard work as it was covered in lush, green, knee high grass. However, after taking a few days to clear the path, this path became very smooth and functional. The farmer now had a nice alternative in order to transport his goods.
As this short story shows, creating new pathways can be challenging but is sometimes very necessary. Some rocky or rut-filled brain pathways might sound like this: “I’m not good enough,” “I am inadequate,” “I can’t do this,” “I hate it when she does that,” “Why does everyone judge me,” “I will never measure up,” “I’m ugly,” or “Life isn’t really worth living.”
These thoughts may be a central piece in our misery, under-performance, or lack of positive behavior. My challenge to all of us is to identify our brain pathways that need some work. Work on replacing these old, negative pathways with new, positive pathways. Over time, with awareness, and with work, new pathways can be formed. Eventually these positive brain pathways can become habitual. This process can be freeing and liberating. It’s something every single one of us can start to do today! As you do this, you will notice how your outlook, mood, and view of life and people can change. Your body on a cellular level will also notice. Give it a try!
Matt Erickson, LCSW