on rewiring.

"the brain is constantly
rewiring itself
based on daily life.
in the end,
what we pay the most attention to
defines us.
how you choose to spend
the irreplaceable hours of your life
literally transforms you."
(the new york times)

i read diane's recent article about your brain on love in the new york times recently, and i thought the article was lovely (a happy and supportive marriage makes pretty much everything else in your life better too, yay!) but mostly i was really moved by this quote, which is the first paragraph of the article. i've been struggling lately with those little unwelcome thoughts that sometimes bounce around in my mind - mostly negative thoughts, of regret and wishful thinking - that i don't seem to have any control over. i've written about these thoughts before here, and how they have a tendency to come out of nowhere, and debilitate the mind with their ability to make us relive the parts of our lives we wish we could change... but we can't. for me, these cringey moments mostly stem from my lack of reaction to a conflict or stress-filled situation. i don't like confrontation, and tend to run in the other direction whenever i am presented with a scenario that might become tension-sparked or unpleasant. i usually smile, take a big sidestep, say something funny, and hope that the whole thing is over with as quickly as possible. this method usually helps to avoid the conflict in the moment, but leaves me with very large gaping holes of unhappiness and thoughts of "why didn't i stand up for myself/what i believe in??"

i think a lot of people struggle with saying what they want to say in a given moment, especially when the conversation has the potential to become heated (and then there are the people who never hesitate to say what's on their mind, and maybe they regret that later... but i definitely can't speak to that!) my problem seems to be that often i don't even truly know how i feel about a situation until later, after everyone else has moved onto something else entirely. i am left standing still, with a nagging feeling inside my belly, wondering why that conversation still bothers me so much.

i have a hard time letting these things go, and sometimes they gain enough grip to take over my entire consciousness. i know that agonizing over something that is in the past isn't going to fix anything, and that the only real way i'm going to overcome these feelings is to use them as learning experiences, so that i can hopefully recognize these moments in the future and begin to learn to react in a way that is more true to myself. the truth is, the more i think about a situation and my less-than-perfect reaction to what someone said or did, the worse and bigger it becomes in my panicky consciousness. these thoughts, when allowed to bounce around untethered in my mind, can suck the fun out of a whole hour, a whole afternoon, or even a whole weekend. if i let them, they can (and actually have) invade my dreams and take over the much more pleasant things that i could be experiencing right now. could there be a worse way to spend the perfectly lovely current moments of my life, than by agonizing over the less-than-perfect ones that have already happened? i think not.

so i am left with two options. one: teach myself to react in the moment. take a deep breath, pause, ask myself how i truly feel in the situation, and then be confident in my reaction (whatever it is, whether i choose to assert myself or decide to let this one slide). or two: for those times when i'm not so proud of my reaction (or non-reaction), i need to stop allowing myself to dwell on these unpleasant thoughts. take a deep breath, remind myself that the conscious brain can only hold one thought at a time (...choose a positive thought), and then mindfully and purposefully steer my mind towards something more pleasant. i know, as a proud graduate of ubc's faculty of science, that our brains are indeed changing for the duration of our lives. some things, like the thousands of different sounds our mouths can make that give us the potential ability to learn all the languages of the world when we are infants, we lose when we don't use them (which is why it can be hard for adults who've only ever spoken english to pronounce or even hear mandarin words correctly). but the more we exercise our brain in new ways, the more neuron pathways are strengthened by this practice. this is why things get easier as we practice them... we are deepening the paths in our brain, which make them easier to walk along, whether they lead to the correct answer to a question on a on a test, or the adjustments necessary to find yourself in perfect alignment in trikonasana. so i know that the more i make an effort to stop these negative thoughts in their tracks, and redirect my brain to happier things, the more the neuron pathways of the cringey memories will be weakened and the pleasant pathways will be strengthened, eventually making it easier to steer my conscious thoughts towards those things that make me happy to be alive, and able to enjoy these current moments - the ones i do i have control over. and in that way, i can work towards making the present and the future as full of perfectly joyous moments as i can cram into them.

1 comment:

  1. I related to the words you wrote in the 2nd paragraph about being someone who doesn't always say how they really feel and then being left with that nagging feeling inside, so well said! I too have a hard time letting things that were said go, I don't make a big deal of them and I like everyone to be happy, kind of the peace maker, but things still bother me deep down and I often sit with them to myself, so, this make so much sense to me! Such wonderful things to think about an interesting article too, fascinating, thank you so much for sharing this and your thoughts and feelings! :)


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