December 20, 2014

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“This is just the way I am.” How many times have you said that? Sometimes as an excuse, other times as an explanation. “This is just the way I am…I worry, procrastinate, am impatient or sensitive, become anxious or act impulsively.” What does “just the way I am” mean? Just because we have always been or acted a certain way, does that mean that we are that way? After 20, 40, or 60 years can you really change aspects of yourself that are fully engrained and habitual? The answer is “yes.” A resounding, “YES!”

The way we are is the culmination of the experiences, people, cultures, and networks in our lives. Influenced by our families, friends, schools, communities, and life events, we create ideas and preferences that ultimately lead to habitual thinking patterns and define our “normal.” While scientists once thought that almost all brain growth and change occurred in early childhood, they now realize that the brain has an amazing ability to rewire itself. In fact, our brains are constantly reorganizing themselves as our neural pathways and synapses respond to our thoughts, behaviors and environments.

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to rewire itself; taken a step further, self-directed neuroplasticity refers to our ability to re-wire our brains! By changing our thoughts, behaviors, and environments we can create new neural pathways, much like paving a new road. While these pathways may never become a “super-highway” or as worn as our original paths, with mental focus and mindful attention, they become established and accessible thinking patterns and habits.

We all know someone who used to be “lazy” and now regularly works out, someone who used to be painfully shy who has become a community leader, or someone who couldn’t make it to class in college but has never been late to the office. When we work to repeatedly direct our focus in a new direction, we can turn “this is just the way I am” into “this is the way I have chosen to be.”

Who do you want to be? What do you want to change? Identify your desire, create a small goal, and start clearing your new path with patience, persistence (not perfection), and focused repetition.
Live well/Be well.

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