Change your Brain and Change Your Life
We all wonder why it seems so hard to change how we view ourselves, our lives, and our behaviors. We recognize we have unhelpful perspectives that result in less than desired outcomes. We keep responding to the challenges of life in ways that really do not work and keep us, at minimum, frustrated or even to the point of despair. We want to respond differently, to act in ways that do work for us and produce desired outcomes. We need to find a way that transforms our lives so that we never act from those old mindsets again.
The problem is that those old ways of thinking, about ourselves and how best to do life, are deeply entrenched in our brains. As we grew and interacted with the world around us, we came to believe the messages others sent to us regarding who we are and what we are able, or not able, to accomplish. Often those messages were damaging and hurtful. They limited our options and caused us to make less than good choices. We find ourselves stuck in a rut in which we no longer want to remain.
In terms of our brains, those old characteristic ways of thinking created strong neural pathways so that when something happens we automatically interpret it the same way we always have. Too often, those pathways take us to a place of weakness and shame. Once there, we cannot act in our long-term best interest.
To make sustained change for the better, we need to re-pattern out brains. Our default ways of thinking, those old pathways, need to be replaced by new ways of thinking that create stronger pathways that lead to a place of power and confidence. It is as if we write new lines of code that overwrite the old code. Once that new pathway becomes stronger than the old, it becomes our new default response to people and events in our lives. As quickly as we use to go to that old place, we now go to that better place.
For this to happen we need to take three steps. The first is to identify the toxic tapes we believe and have internalized. What are the lies this world gave us that have so limited our lives. The second is to discover and embrace new truths that tell us who we really are and what we are able to accomplish. In other words, what are the new tapes we can constantly play that drown out those old tapes. The third necessary step is to repeatedly practice behaviors that are inspired by those new truths. In doing so, over time, we re-pattern our brains. We create and strengthen those better neural pathways. Until this happens, we will not make lasting change for the better.
Our work as counselors is based on this reality. We see our task as helping people take those three empowering steps. What makes our work unique and effective is that we identify and understand the toxic tapes this world sends and we know the life-changing truths that need to be put in their place.
Those truths come from our Creator God’s view of us. This view is based on the unique and masterful creation of a good God each of us is, and that this God has wonderful plans for our lives. This liberating reality is spelled out in Romans 12
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. [This is the process of creating a new mindset, a new neural pathway.] Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourselves more highly [or lowly] than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. [Romans 12: 2, 3]
The text goes on to point out three outcomes from this renewing of our mindsets. In verses 4 to 8 Paul encourages us that we can use the gifts God has uniquely given each of us in valued service. In 9 through 12 we are able to love effectively and be a positive influence on those we care about. In 13 to 21 we are able to accomplish reconciliation between people who are estranged from each other. We can overcome evil with good.
Galatians 5: 1 wonderfully describes the outcome of this transformation.
It is for freedom that Christ as set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Verse 5 sets our hope.
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.
Righteousness here has several meanings. It primarily involves being made right with God; our sins forgiven and a right relationship with him made possible by the saving work of Christ on the cross. It also, therefore, means we can be in a right relationship with ourselves and from that a right relationship with others. Verse 6 ends by declaring: The only thing that counts is [this] faith expressing itself through love.
Lasting change comes from changing our brains. The only lasting way to do that is to allow God and his liberating truths to create those new neural pathways that lead to the blessed life he wants for each of us.