There’s a saying: Neurons that fire together wire together.
Neurons are brain cells, and when we fixate on a thought or emotion, the neurons “fire” or set off a reaction in the brain.
These neural firings change the very structure of our brains. Think of it this way: If you were riding a bike, and kept riding over the same patch of dirt, sooner or later a groove would make an impression in the ground. The longer you kept riding in that groove, the deeper it would become.
In terms of our minds, whatever thoughts and feelings we dwell on influence not only our moods but the structures of our brains. And these structures influence the direction of our lives, the ability to move in a positive direction or a negative one.
But we can change the direction that we ride in. We can choose a new path. And in doing so, it begins to get easier to keep riding that path. We can become stronger, happier, and more resilient so that we can meet the challenges life brings us.
The difficulty is that our brains have a “negativity bias.” It’s a survival mechanism. When we lived in the wild, we needed to be constantly on the alert for threats.
However, now this bias can stand in the way of our ability to maintain a sense of well-being and do the things we want to do.
Attention is like a spotlight. Whatever you focus on becomes brighter and stronger. The key is to notice when you are focusing on fear, worry, and doubt, and make a choice to place your attention elsewhere.
As Dr. Rick Hanson puts it:
“Place it on what leads to happiness and welfare for yourself and others.
Shift it away from what leads to suffering and harm for yourself and others.”
Just as in mindfulness meditation when we need to continually return our thoughts to our body and breath, it takes practice to remember to make the choice to focus on the good.
Pay attention when something feels good–a smile, a warm bath, a walk in the park–and try to dwell there for a while. Remember positive experiences–times when you overcame a difficulty or when you accomplished something worthwhile–and bring them frequently to mind. Create new grooves and your ride will become smoother and more rewarding.
“If you can change your mind, you can change your life.” – William James