Let It Marinate: Can we re-train our Brain?

Let It Marinate

Can we re-train our brain to become more resilient? We are in the midst of a revolutionary period of brain science that is rapidly changing the ways in which we assess and treat mental illness. Without getting too technical, it is generally accepted that our brains are more like soft plastic than previously thought. This means our brains are more flexible and able to change especially with intention. This has major implications on how we learn to cope with depression or anxiety. This is also useful for helping us enhance our underdeveloped resilience skills. We do have to work at molding our brains and those of others. We now know repeated thoughts and feelings can form new connections in our brains. 

Brain Training with Kindness

Saying kind things to ourselves and others and/or believing in positive outcomes creates new neural pathways over time. Think of repeatedly skiing or sledding down the same slope does. We are forming pathways that are used over and over. Repeating works the same way in our brain. Unfortunately, it works both with negative and positive energy, and we are hardwired to lean towards the negative.  Coping with stressful situations can be improved. If we intentionally, for at least 15-30 seconds, marinate or resonate with a particular positive thought or feeling, we can allow positive neuroplasticity to take hold. This helps form a new positive pathway.

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For example, if you’ve had a particularly good day, taking stock either by journaling or really taking it in through perhaps a gratitude practice, eventually leads to healthier ways of experiencing life’s day to day challenges. For relationships, this idea of really focusing on positive interactions is supported by research that suggests it takes 5 positive statements to overcome one negative one we encounter in a conflict with our partner. 

Remember When

This type of focused attention is also a great way to cultivate our own resilience skills. Marinating our thoughts of how we previously might have overcome adversity in our lives can help us understand and take action when we are confronted with new problems. When we remember that we reached out to friends and family for support to help us overcome whatever adversity we were experiencing or when we took initiative and volunteered somewhere which made us feel better when we were hurting, our recovery can often be reconciled faster and in a healthier way. 

Research-Based Evidence

Learning how our brains work, in general, and how our brains have become individualized to our particular experiences and perceived trauma, is a valuable life skill to develop throughout our lifespans. It is now been proven that changes in the brain can occur at any age, so no longer can we say any thought, or feeling, or perhaps even genetic predisposition are set in stone. It requires work and effort, but “training our brains” is a great way for us to get to know ourselves again and become more aware of poor coping mechanisms we may have previously employed. New neural pathways that are positive can be formed at any age.

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Early Experiences Do Have an Impact

When we increase our open-hearted awareness of the influences in our early life, we can begin to catch ourselves and heal those old wounds. It is not easy work, but learning to express our feelings without shame can improve our relationships with ourselves and others. Many of us endured tremendous hardship as children that we often unknowingly bring into adulthood. Untreated and/or without insight, these early experiences can lead to addiction, relationship problems, and work performance issues.

Once we open up and accept our flaws or unhealthy ways of coping with our afflictions, we get better.  As a therapist, I have seen this happen frequently. This is true for even the most challenged among us. Fellow social worker, Brene Brown, has researched vulnerability and found this immense power of possibility for people who allow themselves to open up. When we utilize our natural and developing resilience skills in a proactive fashion, we can improve all these areas in our lives.

 We hope you find our website helpful as we share our knowledge of how you can develop these skills. We like doing the homework and trying to synthesize some of the best mental health information out there for our subscribers. Whether it’s blogs, newsletters, classes, or podcasts, we’ve got you covered. 

All the best and resiliently yours, Jim

McErath, LCSW-R is a licensed mental health therapist in the state of New York

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