Tiempo de lectura: 6 minutos

Neuroplasticity. The most important concept in health and happiness?

Imagine that you are walking to school. To get to school you walk the path that all of the other kids use. It is wide and open, quick and easy, past a disused factory. You get to school quickly because the path is well trodden.

You often meet other friends walking the same way, and in fact you can easily walk three abreast. It is very busy and quite a quick route. One day there is a loose guard dog at the disused factory, and it nearly attacks you. You realise that the path is scary, in fact it has never made you feel great, but everyone goes that way and it is the easiest way. You become aware that everyday you arrive at school worried and stressed. So do all the other kids. The number of stressed kids has made the school a pretty gloomy place.

One sunny day, you realise that there is another way through the woods. You set out early for school, and arrive scratched and scraped, but happy. It was hard to stay on track, as it was overgrown, in fact you almost turned back! So you start going this way, breaking a few branches and every day making the new path easier. Occasionally you forget about the new way, and take the ‘easy’ route instead. But you end up arriving worried and stressed. After a while your new route choice grows wider and more open, as other kids start to join you and clear the path. They too arrive happy at school. And as more and more kids use the new path, the overall mood of the school starts to shift! Life is a whole lot better this way.

How to train your brain to see things differently

A pianist is not born playing the piano, but they rebuild their brain pathways until playing Mozart looks easy. A tennis player is not born with the pathways to hit a 140km/hr serve, they train until they are “automatic”. You cannot drive a car until you practice and make your car-driving pathways automatic.

I know no anxious people. Neither do you. Nor do we know any grateful people, for that matter.

But we do know many people who have practiced worry until their brain makes anxiety the default state. They may have had a million reasons to practice anxiety, but anxiety is not who they are. They are not an anxious person, but someone who has the habit of anxiety. This can sound harsh, but it is a biological fact.

And we know many people who have trained their brain to search for the positive thing in any situation. Perhaps they are lucky and have had lots of chances to practice, perhaps they have had to work hard. Either way, positivity has become the biggest pathway. They are not a positive person, but someone who practices positivity.

Neuro-plasticity is a fact that is happening to you and me, right now. The nerves in your brain are plastic. You can rebuild your brain into a different internal structure. All that it takes is choice and practice.

Chronic Pain and Central Sensitisation

We can relate this to feeling pain. When you have pain in an area of your body, the pain pathways get very busy. Because of all the pain traffic, they clear a big, open highway of pain signals to that part of your body. When you start chiropractic care, and your body starts to heal, the big highways continue to “listen” for any pain, and send signals as much as possible. This is known as “central sensitization”. It is the phenomenon where, even as your body heals, the pain pathways remain overactive. And the more you pay attention to these signals, the more you keep those highways open and active. It is a neurological fact that people who talk a lot or whinge about pain do, and will, suffer more … pain. If you want more pain, then talk about it and focus on it.

Can you change this? Yes. In order to “beat” pain sensitivity, you must choose to use a different pathway. You must choose a new pathway to get to school. At the most basic level, this could be changing the words “ow, it hurts” to “ah, I am healing”. At a more challenging level, it means choosing a totally different topic of conversation. Have you ever “forgotten” about your pain because you are busy doing something else? For sure. Practicing a different thought will allow the pain pathways to shrivel up, and the positive pathways to grow wider.

Make this your winter of deep content…

When does the pianist practice for the big performance? The night before? No! The best time to practice is every day. Every day is ‘the big day!

Because this is a bigger performance than any piano recital. This is your ability to choose gratitude over worry. Or your ability to choose growth over pain. This is your ability to choose happiness. This is how you will see the world. And how your family and friends will experience you, and learn from you. What recital is more important?

Simple, but not easy

The choice is as simple as consciously choosing the colour of socks you wear in the morning, but it is not so easy.

If this was easy, everyone would do it. Playing Mozart is not easy, hitting a tennis serve is not easy, even driving a car is not easy. Yet practice can make you good at just about anything. Is there anything more important than how you get to see your world?

I personally practice this multiple times per day, including with my kids and Farah. As a family, we practice “gratitudes” about twice per day… that is speaking to each other about what we are thankful for, and how we choose for our next day to go. One practice in the car as we bring the kids to school, and again just before the kids go to sleep. We are training their brains to be wired for happiness.

It is easier to do these practices as part of a meditation or breathing exercise, but they can be done at any time. For example, there are a number of landmarks in the Marbella area, past which I never drive without giving thanks for the beauty and abundance of where we live.