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Life Experiences Build Neural Pathways

Every new thing we experience in sobriety changes our brain, and as anyone who has suffered addiction can attest to, we could definitely use some change! One of the most exciting discoveries in the field of neuroscience in recent times has been the ability to observe the malleable nature of the brain. We can think of the brain as a structure that holds its own shape much in the same way a water bottle would. If we apply cold, the bottle becomes frigid and hard, whereas if we apply heat, the bottle is able to be molded into a different structure almost entirely. How does this relate on a practical and day to day level one might ask? A helpful metaphor would be to imagine sitting in the sand on the beach. We can build a sand castle and dig crevices for the water to rush in and out of. The reason we dig crevices is because if the water rushes up the sand, there is no definite structure that contains the flow of water and it all eventually dissipates into the sand. Engaging in behaviors and actions that provide positive emotional reactions, and doing so in a consistent manner, is akin to digging crevices in the sand, only these pathways are carved out in our neurobiology. The more we engage in rewarding actions such as exercise, charity work, and even honest speech, the easier it becomes for our brain to send messages down these “crevices” in order to get them to the receptors that produce the positive emotions.  

The ability that allows our brains to provide positive rewards more easily for adaptive and productive behaviors, is not relegated to just the actions we engage in. Neuroplasticity has also been proven within our thought content alone. In recent years, many people have found the repetition required in uttering daily affirmations to be extremely helpful in the boosting of their self-esteem, self-worth, and self-image. Merely repeating such phrases as “I am worthy”, “I am lovable”, and “I am capable” have shown to be effective in actually ingraining these beliefs deep within our psyches to the extent that they transform from affirmations to beliefs, By mobilizing adaptive and positive thoughts and engaging in new ways of thinking about ourselves, others, and the world around us, we will reshape our neuro-structuring so that we actually change the way that our brains work on a day to day basis.

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