Rewire Your Brain for Lasting Well-Being and Inner StrengthNone by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
The brain is the organ that learns, so it's designed to be changed by your experiences. It still amazes me but it's true: Whatever we repeatedly sense and feel and want and think is slowly but surely sculpting neural structure for better or worse. Sure, most of our mental and therefore neural activity flows through the brain like ripples on a river, with no lasting effects on its channel. But intense, prolonged, or repeated mental activity—especially if it's conscious—will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure, like a surging current reshaping a riverbed. Day after day, your mind is actually building your brain (scientists call this “experience-dependent neuroplasticity”).
Inner Strengths: Growing the Good Inside Ourselves
I've hiked a lot and have often had to depend on what was in my pack. Inner strengths are the supplies you've got in your pack as you make your way down the twisting and often hard road of life. Inner strengths include a positive mood, common sense, integrity, resilience, love, or determination.
So what's the best way to develop greater happiness and other strengths? It's to simply have experiences of them, which help these good mental states become good neural traits. This is taking in the good: activating a positive experience and installing it in your brain.
You Can Use Your Mind to Change Your Brain
The science shows that each person has the power to change his or her brain for the better—what research psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz calls self-directed neuroplasticity. If you don't make use of this power yourself, other forces will shape your brain for you, including pressures at work and home, technology and media, pushy people, the lingering effects of painful past experiences—and Mother Nature herself.
Why Is This So Important?
To survive and pass on their genes, our ancestors needed to be especially aware of dangers, losses, and conflicts. Consequently, the brain evolved a negativity bias that looks for bad news, reacts intensely to it, and quickly stores the experience in neural structure. We can still be happy, but this bias creates an ongoing vulnerability to stress, anxiety, disappointment, and hurt.
Inner strengths such as happiness and resilience come mainly from positive experiences. But unless we pay mindful, sustained attention to them, most positive experiences flow through our brains like water through a sieve. They're momentarily pleasant but leave little