Today we'll talk about what actually happens inside your brain when you start to form new neural connections.
Neurons in the Brain
Your brain is thought to have about 86 billion neurons, all of which are constantly firing. Each of these neurons link with one another to form connections, leading to an astounding 100 billion neural networks formed. These neurons communicate with each other via neurotransmitters through synapses which are usually located on the ends of dendrites- where the information is actually obtained. The more recurrent communications between neurons are, the stronger those connections become. Eventually, the more and more a pattern is practiced, it becomes involuntary- to the point where you don't even have to tell your brain to do it, because it just does.
How Does this Affect my Thoughts?
In order to make a stable neural connection, a thought, idea, or practice must be reinforced about 10,000 times. And I know what you're thinking:
"10,000 times is a lot! I don't think about something that much!"
We think over 6,000 thoughts a day, 95% of which are repetitive and 80% of which are negative. Each time you have the same thought, you increase the chances of having it again. When you add this up, constantly obsessing over the same thought daily will train your brain to eventually make this thought involuntary and you'll find yourself thinking about it over and over again. Even when you don't want to, you'll see it appear because that's what you've trained your mind to do through obsession- which in turn led to the strengthening of those neural connections. Our goal is to rid of unhealthy thoughts which we can do through the opposite- weakening those neural connections.
Neural networks that aren't used often or ideas that aren't practiced, become weaker because of the decrease in communication among neurons. So how do we weaken them? Well, we do the opposite of repetition- neglect.
What is Happening to My Brain?
When you change your thinking habits to be happier, your neurons start to create new connections, ones that are positive, and force your brain to look at things in a new perspective. Because healthy thought patterns are so different from toxic ones, your brain will need time to adapt to this new way of thinking. Just like how you trained it to think negatively with repetition, it's going to take the same amount of effort (or more) to train your brain to change from it's accustomed patterns. In other words- it won't happen overnight.
Your prefrontal cortex is divided into two halves- the right and left. The left is responsible for instituting feelings of positivity while the right deals with feelings of negativity. When you create new, positive neural pathways, they're taken in by the left side thus making that side stronger. This is why people diagnosed with mental illness, such as depression, often show lack of strength in the left half.
As you can see, these neural networks are so so important! They dictate your actions, your decision making and you how react to certain situations! But remember to be patient, it's not easy to break a habit. All good things take time :) I'll see you in my next post!
Fit4D. “The Neuroscience of Behavior Change.” Medium, StartUp Health, 8 Aug. 2017, healthtransformer.co/the-neuroscience-of-behavior-change-bcb567fa83c1.