- “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Our brain is comprised of billions of neurons communicating with each other which results in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The more we do something, the more automatic that something becomes, whether it is an action or a thought. Think of an athlete or musician. Early in their career the actions of throwing a spiral or shifting between chords on a guitar are clumsy and difficult. With repetition those actions become fluid and require little thought. The same holds true for thinking. When someone repeatedly engages in specific configurations of thinking (anxious, depressing, angry, happy, exciting…) those thoughts take one more step toward automaticity. One of the best metaphors I’ve come across compares the firing neurons in one’s brain to a footpath being created on a grassy hill. Imagine a person walking down a hill with tall grass for the first time. That grass bounces back easily and there is no trace of the walk ever happening. However, when the person makes the same trip 10 times a day, eventually a well-worn path is created. The same is true for the neurons in your brain. The first time a person has a specific anxious thought, those firing neurons have very weak connections. But with repetition, over time, the connection between those specific neurons becomes stronger and fire more automatically. It is like those firing neurons create a pathway in the brain much like the pathway on the hill. This is one reason why people can easily get swept up in negative thinking, we subconsciously have those automatic thoughts because the involved neurons have very strong connections.
All too often I have clients express frustration with “a racing mind” and “constant focus on the negative.” With some hard work, people can change this habit of their mind and the first step in this difficult, yet rewarding endeavor is creating some understanding. So I would like to share some neuroscience that will shed some light on why most people struggle with a perpetually negative mind.
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