Dear Reader, let’s talk about change. We all have a love-hate relationship with change but we all need it to grow. For us to get to where we want to be, we need to recognize who we are, where we are, and set a path for change. Who we are is “whole people” with a body, soul, and spirit. When we understand a little of how we are designed, we get great encouragement in our struggles with change. Where we each are right now may be unique and we also share some similar struggles so none of us is alone in our desire for change.
Want some encouragement to help you make the change so you can grow?
Here’s some insight into the brain and how we can help it with the changes we want to see. At the bottom of the post are those 5 ways you can help your brain make changes.
The Brain and it’s Pathways
Let’s start with one of the critical organs, our brain. When over time we begin to practice the same behavior, our brains create a pathway. Pathways in our brains are created through our choices and these choices can be altered to develop a new path. Alterations to those pathways take other intentional choices over time, with grace, truthful thoughts, and supported by healthy nutrition (healthy nutrition is a major factor is giving you the needed support for change to occur). The health of our brains is related to the health of our bodies.
Our brains were created with a natural way to support and secure changes but your brain needs your help.
Here’s a simple diagram that gives a visual for us…
These dots represent neurons. Your brain has lots and lots.
They communicate to each other using space called synapses.
A neuron sends info as you think to the next neuron and so on.
When you think and act the same way many times, an auto-pilot path is created. It’s a way for to brain to be efficient.
Let’s draw some lines in the box….
If we imagine one thought starts at one neuron, “A”, draw a line from “A” then go to another and another imagining your brain initiating a single action.
Now start a line at the same first neuron, “A”, but instead of the same line, now begin to adjust your line one neuron at a time for the same number of stops. With those adjustments now you are at a different neuron or different action. This could be what you will do through new choices internally when you make actionable changes externally.
The design for efficiency is great design and there is even a chemical that helps bond that pathway called acetylcholine. That’s great when it’s a helpful pathway, but not so great when the pathway destination hurts us. When the pathway is not one that is beneficial, that chemical keeps us from doing something differently. So when we try to create a new pathway, that’s why its so hard! It’s chemical and hard-wired.
However! That is a wonderful word isn’t it?
However we don’t have to stay in that trapped path.
There is another chemical that helps our brains, and our minds, to be renewed. It’s called GABA, (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is your friend and GABA can be depleted or it can be increased by healthy choices!
“If you have suffered an emotional trauma or are under a lot of stress, the feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin and GABA, may be depleted and your emotional or limbic brain may become excessively active, making you feel sad. This makes you eat and drink in an attempt to calm your limbic brain.
Over time these substances lose their effectiveness and people engage in the corresponding behaviors for the attempt to prevent the withdrawal feelings. Keeping these brain chemicals and systems in balance is critical to maintaining focus and control over your cravings.” –Dr. Amen
When you begin to reset your health, your behavior, and your thoughts, GABA kicks in to help reset a new pathway to a beneficial destination.
It goes like this as a thought process as we drew the second set of lines…
“I feel the way I used to, however instead of responding the old way, I will choose this way instead…”.
Over time the “however” which is our choice of a new way of thinking and behaving, helps us choose the new instead option and that becomes the new auto-pilot!
We can’t change our brains or make these chemicals work for us without following the healthy paths set out for us that align with how we are created. That’s why it’s important to take care of ourselves as whole people – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and be in healthy relationships.
The most compelling science shows that the experience of being in love or feeling loved is the most healing experience for our brains and our bodies. This can be a tricky path to walk if the experience of love has not been healthy for you so far. That was part of my story. If that’s your story too, there are ways to create new pathways that allow you to see healthy relationships, to choose healthy actions for yourself with others, and to experience the way you were created to be loved.
A little additional encouragement for your whole health – As a Christian counselor I believe and have experienced this kind of healing and this kind of love. I also believe it is available for you and your friends and family too. Your relationship with others is connected to your relationship with God or Jesus. If you have never seen God or Jesus as love, now is the time for you to get to know him. Don’t let life or old brain pathways tell you who God or Jesus is! Ask God, ask Jesus, to reveal his true self to you. Then watch the experience of love help heal your old life and give you courage for this new life with others.
Now take this exercise to your daily choices and see yourself make these changes!
Here are 5 ways you can partner with the way you were created in this process:
- Participate in safe, respectfully healthy, integrity inspiring, and trusting relationships
- Maintain healthy eating and drinking to fuel your body, mind, soul, and spirit
- Practice mindful healthy thinking and regulate feeling or emotions, especially stress and anxiety
- Reframe your life story in an authentically optimistic, healing perspective
- apply your steps with the worksheet “My Path To Change”
And a 6th possible way for those who want to include God directly:
- Ask God to reveal himself as loving—God is love and feeling loved means we relax. Take time daily to sit with God over a cup of tea, decaf coffee, juice or ask him to join you on a quiet walk. Just as you would with a good friend, share your time together and listen asking God to speak tenderly to you. “Learning anything positive, including love, requires freedom from fear. If we learn not to fear we can trust and connect with others.”
You can do this now because you are setting yourself up with strong support.
Join me as we solidly those changes and set these new paths this year!
Liz Lawrence, MA, LPC-S is counselor, coach and creative who is passionate about people. She directs a counseling center in Austin, Texas and with husband David Lawrence co-leads the non-profit Renue.Me whose mission is to invest in the dreams of leaders in underprivileged communities around the world. Connect with her at www.lizlawrencelpc.com or www.renue.me
 Sy Rogers in Lessons Learned
 Dr. Amen from Change Your Brain, Change Your Body. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms or helps to relax the brain.
 Dr. Caroline Leaf from Who Switched Off My Brain
 Dr. Louis Cozolino from The Neuroscience of Human Relationships. A fearful brain can learn to love.