In this article Kate Griffiths explains how science has proven that it is really all down to you how you feel. What this means is that you can change if you want to; it also means you can no longer kick the proverbial cat or blame someone or something else if you are having a shit day. Did you know that whatever you continually sense and feel and want and think is slowly but surely shaping your neural structure? Also all mental activity whether that’s sights, sounds, thoughts, feelings, conscious or unconscious patterns are based on underlying neural activity. Most of your neural activity flows through your brain with no lasting effect but intense and repetitive activity leaves an imprint on the neural structure. Why does this matter you might well ask? It helps to explain why I can often be found saying that you are a co-creator of your reality. One of the golden wisdom principles of the PI programme that I run with Kath Roberts is whatever you focus on grows. In mindfulness terms you could say every day your mind is building your brain. This is called neuroplasticity, which is a major area of research for neuroscientists today who are examining how the brain can, and does, change. How exciting is that? It means if you discover a pattern of behaviour in yourself that you don’t like and then develop your meditation muscle using mindfulness techniques, you can increase your grey matter. This leads to a thicker cortex primarily in the prefrontal areas behind the forehead that control attention; the insula, which you use to connect to yourself and others; and the hippocampus, which can help extend your long term memory and improve your spatial awareness. It doesn’t stop there. If you practise relaxation regularly, this is likely to increase the activity of genes that calm down stress reactions, thus making you more resilient. Let’s look at this in another way. Going back to the idea of the triune brain which I explored in detail in a previous article, let’s look at the core need that each meets. In the case of the reptilian brain, its driver is safety; the focus of the dog/ mammalian brain is satisfaction and the theme for the primate brain is connection. We can see this as follows that in the case of our oldest brain, it’s aiming to avoid any form of harm; our middle brain is looking for rewards and our youngest brain wants to attach to others. Why is this important you may ask? It helps to explain why so many get caught up in surviving rather than thriving. Our instinct for survival is rooted in ancient biological imperatives. Furthermore it helps to think of these three operating systems that we have as running us. They can operate in one of two ways which I will explore with you now. There is the responsive mode which in coaching language we refer to as setting an intention for the day. You can decide when you wake up how your day is going to be – let me show you how. You can start by thinking about all the things you are looking forward to in your day. Then even if you get cut up in the traffic on the way to work, you can see it as someone being in more of a rush than you rather than getting annoyed by their driving. Imagine you asked to pick up your child from school early because they are not well, you could see this as an opportunity to spend quality time with her even though it means leaving work early and before you have finished what you set out to do. Your partner comes home stressed to the eye balls and is not particularly pleasant but you see the behaviour for what it is and respond by getting them their favourite drink and sending them some healing energy. Alternatively exactly the same events could occur and you could approach the whole situation completely differently. You could wake up and think about the day full of dread about what is coming up. This sense of gloom intensifies and sparks into anger when you get cut up in the traffic and you glower at the driver, raising your fist at them as you shoot past later in the outside lane. When the phone rings to say that you will have to pick up your daughter from school early, you curse silently to yourself and are really grumpy when you pick her up, stressing about when you are going to get your unfinished work done. This then weighs heavily on your mind so when your partner starts sounding off, you turn on him giving them both barrels as you have just about had enough after a very difficult day. As you can see exactly the same things happened in both days, the one difference was the setting your brain was on. It has a responsive and a reactive setting. Thinking about it in another way, as long as you believe that your core needs are being met, then the system defaults to its responsive setting because you are feeling safe and that generates a sense of relaxation, calm and peace. Likewise when you feel satisfied that gives rise to feelings of appreciation, contentment and a sense of accomplishment. Finally when you feel connected, your brain evokes feelings of compassion, kindness, worth and love. In this place you can meet challenges without feeling stressed because it is as if you have a protective layer between you and the challenge. You can avoid feelings of fear. Rick Hanson talks about the green brain – a state where your neural networks are no longer in a state of deficit so your sense of lack, pressure and emotions like irritability and frustration evaporate. Suffering really does become a thing of past in the responsive mode. Not only do you treat others with more compassion because you feel respected, it’s contagious which means you attract other fabulous folk into your space and find you have more influence. You can still experience misunderstandings with others and challenges in this resting state but you face them with a foundation of empathy and goodwill. How amazing is that? Each time you take in the good, you are hardwiring happiness into the neural networks. Remember next time you feel out of sorts and look to blame someone else or your health, remember how you feel is all down to you. And if you want to develop your ability to respond whatever situation you face then get in touch. I would love to give you tools that will help you transform your life into one where you can be all that you can be more of the time. And if you feel inspired to comment then do leave a message below.
It’s all down to you: rebuild your brain one breath at a time