We used to believe that the human brain was pretty much done cooking by the time we reached adulthood. Now, we know that just isn’t the case. Neural development isn’t complete until our mid-20s and the brain continues to form new neural connections throughout our lifetime.
Have you ever heard the phrase neurons that fire together wire together?
This phrase was first used in 1949 by Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist. Hebb discovered that every experience, thought, feeling, and physical sensation triggers thousands of neurons that pass information back and forth and create a neural network. When you repeat an experience over and over, those neural connections literally get stronger and bigger.
Neuroscientists refer to this process as experience-dependent neuroplasticity. The brain is a learning muscle. And like any other muscle in the body, the more we use different regions of that muscle, the stronger those regions get. Experiences that are intense, prolonged, or repeated physically change the anatomy and chemistry of the brain. For example, studies show that Black Cab drivers in London use one particular part of their brains over and over and as a result, it’s bigger than yours and mine.
Neuroplasticity is at the root of research on rewiring the brain for better emotional health and overall well-being. A wealth of studies show that the practice of gratitude and kindness enables us to embed positive experiences in the brain and over time rewire the brain to be more receptive to neural activity that makes us smarter and happier.
We can also rewire the brain to be more receptive to negative emotions and the neural consequences. Numerous studies have proven that thanks to a built-in negativity bias, the brain reacts far more strongly to negative experiences than to positive ones. In addition, intense, repeated, or prolonged negative experiences will actually grow and strengthen stress receptors and connections.
There are four simple steps you can take to rewire your brain to intentionally become more receptive to the neural impact of positive emotions.
Acknowledge: Be on the lookout for negative thought patterns. Pay attention to how those negative emotions impact your mood, productivity, and energy level.
Reframe: Reframe the negative thought to find at least one positive aspect.
Refocus: Refocusing on the positive aspect will prevent a surge in stress hormones and enable you to think through the situation strategically.
Recognize: Recognizing when and how negative thoughts steal your focus is the best way to rewire your brain for the positive thoughts that enable better brain function. The more frequently you make this an intentional thinking pattern, the more automatic it becomes.