Neural pathways determine how we perceive the world and choose to act within it
Most of us believe in the concept of free will, or at least the idea that our behaviors derive from a conscious choice. We all have impulses, but surely our brain, our “mind,” enables us to distinguish between those behaviors that are harmful and those that are beneficial. The truth is that our neural pathways are heavily shaped by previous patterns of behavior and, in some cases, physical substances. This is partially why addictive behaviors like smoking are so difficult to quit; while there are physical cravings, the mental pathways that are formed as a result of our behavior take a long time to change, especially if we are unaware that they exist.
This extends to non-addictive scenarios such as how we were educated, our first major relationships, and other life-changing moments. When people speak of being trapped in “patterns” they are quite literally referring to this tendency of falling back on our neural programming. Some experts estimate that it takes a concentrated effort over a consecutive three week period to retrain or change an established neural pathway.
The good news is that virtually any neural pathway, depending on the level of tissue damage, can be changed or modified. The trick is in understanding our behavior objectively, and then making the commitment to change it if we find it distasteful or unhelpful in our daily lives. Many women, especially when they find themselves in a difficult situation, are blinded by emotion. They believe that they will always be trapped in unhappy circumstances. However, by calmly and rationally analyzing our behaviors and our previous experiences, we can see how we learned our methods of coping with problems, both good and bad. By understanding that we all have our “bad” neural pathways, we can begin to change the behaviors that inevitably land us in situations we despise. It just takes a little “brainpower.”
by Julia Ingalls
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