I’m reading a book at the moment called The Source: Open Your Mind Change Your Life by Dr Tara Swart. I’m hoping to interview her at some stage as she’s an extremely intelligent and experienced neuroscientist whose ideas chime in neatly with mine but from a more medical/scientific perspective.
I’m just reading a chapter introducing the concept of our brains being on autopilot a lot of the time and I thought it might be useful to share this:
Following this autopilot means that life follows very familiar patterns, which is much more efficient for the brain as it requires less energy. Also the brain is wired to avoid change which it perceives as a threat and to which it creates a stress response that stops us from taking risks and powers down our higher thinking (the executive functions of the brain, such as regulating emotions, overriding biases, solving complex problems and thinking flexibly and creatively) to keep us safe. It opts for instant gratification and the path of least resistance whether or not it is in our best interest for it to do so. On autopilot, we don’t question where these underlying, entrenched habits come from and whether they serve us any longer; we switch off and let life happen to us, assuming that much of it is out of our control. But every single thing that we do reinforces a pattern or pathway, and consolidates our autopilot behaviours. In doing so, the underlying concept that things are just the way they are, convinces us more than ever that life happens to us and we are to a large extent powerless to control it. However, neuroscience shows us that we can take back control of our minds by rewiring our brain’s pathways to make lasting, positive changes to our lives.
When you’re hearing a voice or a part of you that’s shouting about needing a drink, that drink is the only way out, the only way to get what it is you’re craving - when you’re experiencing any pain or trauma going without alcohol - that’s your brain trying to avoid change. It’s perceiving going without alcohol as a threat and is creating stress responses. It wants the instant gratification and the path of least resistance that drinking gives you.
If you cave in to those drinking drives, you’re reinforcing the pattern and the automatic behaviour. This, in turn, leaves you feeling “powerless” to control the urge.
BUT – and this is the bit you’re learning as you make your way through the programme – you CAN rewire your brain to expect something different and to choose something different. You’re already doing this if you’re working through the modules and steps.
Each time you do something differently and give a different response to a trigger situation, you’re building that muscle in your brain and helping it to rewire itself.
You need to keep repeating and practising the steps before this becomes more comfortable but it can be reassuring just knowing this. Rewiring the brain’s pathways can be uncomfortable and take conscious and mindful concentration but it can be done! Your brain is an amazing malleable tool that you can shape and change!
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