Our VoiceCulture

My Brain, My Body, Our World


Guest Blogger • Jun 20, 2008

Does the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” really apply to me? Can I ever manage to truly change things about myself at will?

Now that I’m a single mother of two absorbent human beings, I’ve come to realize the importance of the way I live my life. I’ve realized that the choices and patterns in my own life aren’t just affecting me, but also the lives of my daughters. As I move through this life my children are watching my every move. With that realization I’ve began to seek to change those patterns in my life that I do not wish to overflow into the lives of my children.

As I’ve begun this process of change, I’ve learned about how our brains work- how they process experience - and how we’re capable of re-routing our very way of perceiving, reacting, and interpreting experiences in life. And through these (new to me) concepts, I’ve begun to see them on a greater scale. Its not just how I interpret and change my life. It’s also how we, as a society, interpret and change the world around us. I’ve learned that by example we not only change on a personal level, but on a social level; one person influences another and those influences, through time, can slowly change the way in which the world views and reacts to certain circumstances.

So I have to ask; are we, as a society, stuck in perpetual cycles of destruction? Are politicians doomed to repeat the behaviors of their predecessors because it’s the way of our American democracy?

I know American society has slowly progressed and sometimes digressed, but are these only momentary changes? And is history doomed to repeat itself?

These questions haunt movements of change, and they haunt me in my personal life as I struggle with various destructive patterns. They make me question whether or not true change can ever reside and whether I must simply learn to live with my baggage instead of throwing it completely overboard.

As I said before, I’ve learned some promising information about the brain and how it understands change. Scientists used to think that the human brain’s neurological pathways were unchangeable once it reached adulthood. But now they’re able to see how the brain functions through a Magnetic Resonance (MR) machine, and other devices, and researchers are discovering that the brain’s pathways are able to change over time. But this change takes work. It isn’t a single decision that stops a person from doing a specific task a certain way in order to begin another. It’s a process of consistent decisions.

These patterns are what make us tick; the behaviors we’ve learned throughout our lives are actual physical connections between neurons. Those pathways are carved throughout our lives in accordance to the things we’ve experienced. “The specified functional roles of the neurons and their interconnections with other neutrons depend critically on experience” *. So in order to change these pathways we must be consciously aware of the changes we make, knowing that through awareness and dedication we can eventually make new cognitive pathways; changing our behaviors and responses.

Imagine a forest trail that you walk along everyday (this trail would be the pathways between neurons). The path is well trod and void of most branches and roots that may hinder you along the way. Imagine now that you decide to create a new trail. It’s difficult to clear the path of brush, weeds and branches, but you continue anyway. When you’re at a critical and difficult time along the way, it’s easy to go back to the old beaten path. But if you continue to work on the new trail, and use it more often, the old trail becomes less used because you take it less frequently.

This is how our brain works - you make a conscious decision to change, and yet many times along the way you return to that old way of doing things. It’s only with frequent and consistent effort that we’re able to change our old ways of thinking.

If you look at society as a single organism with trillions of cells, sometimes working together, sometimes apart, sometimes against itself, it’s not that different from our own personal bodies and how they function. Change can’t happen all at once. Sometimes it’s discouraging to see the changes we thought occurred become more of the same.

Change is something that happens through slow consistent effort. And this seems promising to me. For example, knowing that change is a process and not a leap means that it’s possible for this country to move in the direction of compassion, humility, and empathy: First through awareness and then through perseverance.

So as I step into this new life, one of change and hope, I find solace in knowing I’m not alone, and that maybe my choice to change is not just helping me in my personal life, but the lives around me.

*From Research in the CNBC “Exploring the Emergence of the Mind from Brains”

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