We spend most of our lives just thinking on default. We have lots of old, unexamined thought habits. A thought habit is just a thought we have thought over and over again. It is a well-rehearsed neural pathway that our brain is really practiced at thinking. It’s an almost automatic thought.
So many of our thought habits simply go unquestioned and unnoticed, but many of them create pain and negative feelings which cause us to act and show up in our lives in a way that we don't like.
But the best news is that the brain has the power to create new neural pathways at any time. The brain's neurplasticity allows you to purposefully create much more productive and positive thought habits. In order to do this we need to:
1. Get awareness of what our current thoughts are creating for us.
2. Question the thoughts we have been thinking by asking ourselves what we would think if we couldn't think these old thoughts.
3. And then replace and practice (again and again) the new thought that we want to believe about our life.
One of the most powerful things you can know is that you get to decide how you want to think about your life, no matter what the circumstances are.
Our Brains were Designed to be Efficient
When we think a thought again and again our brain gets better and better at thinking it. You might have heard the phrase: Neruons that fire together, wire together. This means that as we think certain thoughts, neurotransmitter signals get passed from neuron to neuron along a specific path. The more we think certain thoughts, the faster the transmitters can travel that path--and the circuit gets faster.
And here’s why:
Imagine your brains neurons are like the branches on a bush. When you think a thought, neurotransmitters have to travel from one branch to another to send their signals. When you think a thought over and over, certain branches get used more than others. The brain wants to send these signals as quickly as possible.
And to be efficient, the brain then has cells called “microglial cells” which go through and prune or remove unused synaptic connections so the signals can travel faster through the bush.
How do the microglial cells know which synapses to prune?
Researchers are just starting to unravel this, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy—or prune—the synapse.
This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.
And this is what creates thought habits—the pruning makes it easier for the brain to quickly think these default thoughts.
Our Brains Can Change and Think in New Ways
The most amazing thing about our brain is that even after this "pruning" has occurred, nothing is set in stone. The brain can change and it can always think new thoughts.
This is because the brain has a characteristic called neuroplasticity. This means that neurons and synaptic connections that have been pruned back can be reconnected and new neural pathways can be created at any time.
If we choose to think these new thoughts repeatedly, the old thought synapses will be used less and less and eventually they will be the synapses that are pruned back and destroyed, leaving the new thought in its place.
Questions to Help You Identify and Replace Thought Habits that Aren't Serving You
1. What are the current result of this thought habit?
The first step is awareness. What is your current thought creating for you?
Before we can think something different, we have to understand what our current thinking is producing in terms of our feelings, actions, and results.
How does this thought make you feel and how to you act when you feel this way? This is how you can see if the thought habit is one you want to keep or get rid of.
2. What if I couldn't think this thought?
Every thought is optional. But sometimes when we have an old thought habit, we think we have to think the thought because it's "true." I like to use questions to show myself that it’s never necessary to keep thinking a thought habit.
Some powerful questions are:
What if you couldn’t think that? What if that thought was totally unavailable to you? Then what would you think?
3. How do you want to think about your life in every circumstance?
Finally you will need to create a new habit. Your brain doesn't like a vacuum. You not only have to decide not to think the old thought, you need to think something else instead. You have to reprogram your neural pathways. You do this by practicing a new thought again and again and again.
You can create a circumstance-resistant thought that will allow you to see and experience you life in a completely different way, no matter what happens.
Ask yourself, how do I want to think about my life? And then practice this thought until it becomes your go-to, positive thought habit.
Just pick one sentence. One sentence that you want to think about your life. And make it your circumstance-resistant thought. No matter what happens. You can pull it out of your thought pocket and use it everytime you need to to feel immediately better and completely change your how you are experiencing your life.