The best amends and the most important apologies are the ones you don’t have to make. This blogcast explores the power of choice, how to have more of it, and how to use it—especially when you’re about to tip over, speak harshly, or do something regrettable. Recovery tells us to “pause when agitated or doubtful.” But HOW exactly do you DO that? How do your train your brain to “pause” when it’s on fire? Well, there’s a secret key–and a scientific phenomenon–that creates room in your mind for Grace to enter. Better choices will follow automatically. Here’s how…
Let’s talk about neuroscience for a quick minute (painless, I promise).
Your brain is built from (among other things) synaptic connections. These connections form well-worn tracks, much like ruts in a road. Those ruts take your mind to the same places over and over, like a broken record.
This is why–when you’re “triggered” by an external event or a memory from the past–you automatically go wherever a certain path has learned to take you: anger, aloofness, goofy behavior, laughter, sullenness, etc.
We often surrender to our personalities as if we have no control over them. Surely you’ve heard–or said–these types of statements before:
- I can’t help myself.
- She’s melodramatic.
- He’s got a short temper.
- She’s just that way.
- I always shut down when XYZ happens.
- It’s in his nature.
- I can’t stand it when (fill in the blank___________).
News Flash: You’re not stuck with the brain you have now. If you have character defects, patterns of behavior, habits that don’t serve you or others, you don’t have to be a victim of them, over and over. You can change your brain so better things – good habits, skillful reactions, character assets – happen automatically.
Here’s the brain science secret that changes everything:
Neuroplasticity is a fancy word for saying your brain is like Play-Doh. You can change those grooves in your brain. Your mind literally changes the structure of your brain through force of will, through force of thought. When you think the same thoughts over and over, you wear those ruts or paths in your brain. For better or worse. This is why:
When you change your mind, everything else “downstream” changes, too.
In the best case, when your thoughts are positive – affirming, compassionate, lighthearted or loving – your feelings follow suit. Then come your actions. And ultimately, your results in life. This sequence works like a series of dominoes, one inevitably following the other.
Just so, if your thoughts are negative – full of self-loathing, anger, frustration, impatience, intolerance – your thoughts, feelings, actions, and your results, also follow suit.
The good news is this: You can literally re-wire your brain to automatically think, feel and do whatever is in your – and others’ – best interest … all the time. That’s a big promise. In recovery we look for “progress not perfection.”
Mindfulness is the best tool in the world to build the mental muscles you need to “pause when agitated” before you fly off the handle.
But little by little, as you practice mindfulness, as you “pause when agitated” and let Spirit guide your thoughts, feelings and actions, you’ll literally carve new grooves in your brain. In this way:
- Anger turns to patience
- Criticism turns to compassion
- Fear turns to faith
- Resentment turns to forgiveness
- Arrogance turns to humility
- Blame turns to accountability
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous encourages “restraint of pen and tongue”. (I would add texting and social media posting to that!) Much rides on this. It’s really hard at first, prone as we are to knee-jerk reactions. (Because our brains have those ruts, remember?)
The more you practice “pausing,” the stronger your brain will become. Meditation/mindfulness is truly the secret key to the “restraint” that will save you from saying or doing something you’ll regret.
Think of meditation as doing pushups for your brain. You’re building strength of character. Good, admirable traits have room to enter and when you give your mind space …
…space between your thoughts.
In that space, you have choice.
The degree to which you choose patience, tolerance, forgiveness, love – and all those other good characteristics we strive for in recovery – is the degree to which your results in life will be astonishingly awesome.
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