As noted neuropsychologist Rick Hanson has revealed, research has revealed the brain is malleable; it’s constantly changing and evolving through its inherent “neural plasticity.” The brain has developed what Hanson refers to as its “negative bias” as a way to ensure our survival as a species. To ensure that they were able to pass on their genes, our ancestors survived through developing anxiety and fears against potential threats–threats from other tribes vying for scarce resources, as well as threats from predators. These survival instincts became hardwired into our brains, and worked well thousands of years ago when the average lifespan was around 30 years. Today, however, these ancient brain components don’t do us any favors in the modern world, and, in fact, contribute to stress, anxiety, and healthy problems as the modern brain attempts to find solutions to threats–real or imagined.Tale of the Two Wolves.
There’s a well-known tale of a Native American woman who was asked near the end of her life how she thrived throughout her life. Her response was that two wolves live within her heart: one wolf is love, and one wolf is hate. She said that each day she had a choice of which to feed: the wolf of love, or the wolf of hate. Watch the following video of Dr. Hanson giving a short talk in Chicago about the subject, wherein he explains the keys to “rewiring” our brains toward the positive (something the brain doesn’t do very well on its own, because it’s not part of the ancient survival need), and it involves three main steps:
- Taking in the good. Taking individual experiences and finding them each day throughout the day. This is, in essence, finding and appreciating the good that surrounds you.
- Savor the experience for 10 or more seconds. To ensure that the brain absorbs the experience–and actually creates deeply embedded neural networks–one must deeply experience, as much as possible, the experience at an emotional and physical level.
- Sense and intend that the experience is becoming part of you. Just taking 15 seconds, closing your eyes, and thinking of something that has moved you deeply, or someone whom you love, or something that you’re extremely grateful for actually changes your brain.
Mental Hygiene. You probably wouldn’t go a day without brushing your teeth. That’s just good dental hygiene, right? Well, why would you go a day without practicing good mental hygiene? The more you do this, the more you change your brain! It’s amazing that we’re taught to take care of our teeth, our bodies, our hair–everything but the brain. Seems almost too simple to be true, right? But it really is that simple. Take a few minutes to watch Dr. Hanson’s talk to find out more.