5 Tips to Rewire your Brain
You may know that as humans our brains are literally wired with neural connections that drive our thought processes, our emotional reactions, and our behaviors. If you have ever tried to change an old habit, you know how daunting it can be to unwire the old brain connections and to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Here are a few tips that help to rewire your brain, whether you are in recovery from a serious addiction or eating disorder, or you are trying to change a daily pattern, such as watching less Netflix.
1. Pause. Yes, just stop for a moment. Take a breath. Literally. Your brain is the most powerful computer on earth. It needs to shut down frequently and reboot. You can do this by giving yourself permission to stop doing just long enough to pay attention to your breathing. Mindfully inhale and exhale a few times; while exhaling a little bit longer than when you inhale. Just one breath can change your outlook, can oxygenate your creative juices, and can give you the mini-rest to tackle the rest of the day. This is free of costs, no special classes needed and you can do it anywhere and at any time (e.g., a business meeting, in the car, waiting in line). This first step in developing Mindfulness skills can help you develop a space to pause and choose healthy coping skills (e.g., going for a walk, calling a friend) versus previously used “go to” addictive substances or eating behaviors when in the throes of overwhelming feelings and situations that life deals us quite regularly.
2. Compassion. Self-compassion is an essential component in rewiring for recovery. Most in recovery have deep-seeded shame and self-loathing before, during and after the addictive process. Dr. Kristen Neff, a leading researcher in the field, speaks about the need to treat yourself as you would a young child that you may be or have nurtured through difficult times. This shift in perspective taking and treating yourself with a loving kindness takes reminders to practice and soon you will catch yourself starting to berate yourself and shift to a more compassionate inner-voice and gestures instead. Rewiring at its finest!
3. Gratitude. Shifting your consciousness to all the many blessings in your life rewires your brain to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. All of us have at least one teeny tiny thing we can be grateful for in our lives, even if it is just a clean shirt or the fact that we didn’t get into a car wreck today. The trick with gratitude is that it doesn’t really matter what we are grateful for, as long as we are guiding our minds to see all that is positive and possible rather than pain and suffering that we all feel. This brain shift literally rewires the way we perceive and experience the world.
4. Ask How. So how do you do that? It’s more powerful for the brain to question possibilities than to shut down with statements such as “I’ll never be happy”, “this person is impossible to deal with”, or “I can’t”. Our words and our thoughts direct the wiring in our minds. When we tell ourselves, we can’t, then that becomes our reality. Instead, be open to learning new ways of thinking and new ways of perceiving the world. “How can I make this happen?” Creative answers are more likely to come to mind when we are open and willing to find a way.
5. Keep Up. It’s far easier to give up than it is to keep up but change often takes time. Rewiring the brain is no different. Imagine yourself with a machete trying to forge a path through the rainforest. This is what it looks like in your brain when you are trying to do something new that you haven’t ever done before. It is awkward and uncomfortable, a little exciting, and very scary. Keep plowing ahead and eventually that rainforest footpath can turn into a super highway that you speed through with ease.