Musings

You Can Train Your Brain

One of the areas of psychology where I really geek out is neuropsychology.  I had this superb professor for Brain Science when I was an undergrad in college, and he always had the COOLEST STORIES to go along with whatever aspect of the brain we were talking about, which made the class super interesting where it would otherwise have been just straight, boring, biology.  Plus, we had a COLORING BOOK to learn brain structures.  My amgydala was always purple.

I mean, when you get down to it, the capabilities of our brains are just flat amazing.

Anyway, in that light, over the weekend at the Daily Good, they had an article about how you can trick your brain for happiness.  Color me delighted when they got into the actual science of self-directed neuroplasticity.  Basically, this means that you can actively, willfully change the physical structure of your brain.  How COOL is that?

In a nutshell, when you do or think something, connections are made between neurons in your brain.  The more you do or think that thing (or something like it) the stronger that connection becomes.   Think of it like mental weight lifting.  So if you look at, say, a medical student, the areas of their brain responsible for human anatomy knowledge are going to be a lot thicker with those strengthened connections at the end of med school than they were at the start.  Probably the same can be said for writers after years of learning and practicing our craft.  The areas of the brain responsible for story and all its various and sundry components are stronger than in the average joe.

The point that the article was making was that you can work on strengthening those neural connections in the part of the brain responsible for positive emotion using a deliberate, focused attention.  So all that cognitive-behavior therapy that deals with positive self talk and cognitive restructuring?  If you do it right, it’s creating physical restructuring in the brain.  So the more you focus your attention on the positive in your life (and deliberately neglect focus on the negative), the more prone you will be to strengthen those connections to NOTICE the positive and allow those connections on the negative to actually die off.  Thus making for a happier you.  For anybody who doesn’t feel in control of their emotions, I would think this would make for some potentially fabulous and self-empowering news.

Perhaps the bigger implication of this whole concept of self-directed neuroplasticity is the notion that if you don’t use your attention, you lose it.  Which I’ve seen saying for years in conjunction with the rising over-diagnosis of ADHD and our widespread society of constant new stimuli and input.  The ability to pay attention is not innate. It must be trained like any muscle, strengthened as such.  Whether that’s the ability to focus on gratitude and the blessings in your life or the ability to sit down and immerse yourself in your WIP for the one hour of quiet you have a day–you have to train yourself.

So the next time you feel your attention wandering, challenge yourself to rein it in and focus–work on strengthening that attention muscle.  And remember what what you choose to focus on is going to stick with you.  Make sure your focus is a good one.

Have you done your brain lifting today?

6 thoughts on “You Can Train Your Brain

  1. It’s so funny that this shows up just as I was thinking about how I couldn’t focus today and how I was just going to veg out, but I told myself a firm NO! and sat down to continue plodding along on my writing. Good timing, Kait! Ha!

    I’ve always believed in the power of positive thinking; it’s so cool that there’s an actual scientific support for it, as well!

  2. Good post…
    How funny you should write about this. It is the same topic our speaker spoke about at our writers’ group meeting this past weekend.
    She spoke about focusing on details of people, places and things as much as possible. There is always some small detail that can spark that next scene in your wip to get you to the next spot in the story.
    If you write about that small detail when you have writers’ block you can usually unlock the door to something better. Maybe leave that scene behind and go on to write the next scene. When the story is done you can lay out all your scenes on the floor before you and arrange them together like a puzzle.

  3. What an enlightening post! I wonder if the reason I’m such an optimist now when I WASN’T when I was younger is because I did this very thing without even realizing it. It’s worth thinking about. Maybe, deep down, we CHOOSE to feel the way we do because that’s what we focus on. That’s what we practice. I really need to exercise both body and mind right now. Thanks for this post!

  4. Thanks for sharing this post. I’m normally a very positive person but have found myself with family stress becoming more negative and thus affecting my writing. Going to choose to be more positive and exercise my brain.

  5. Interesting! Thanks for sharing. That with all the research into how we test and study “happiness” in our lives is now swimming in my brain.

    On a different note, I lent my sister my copy of Red and I can’t wait for her to read it! She seems really pumped! And I told her to take extra super duper special care of my book because it’s signed by the author! 😉

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