I learned two things yesterday that have literally changed the structure of my brain, or at least the chemical structure, according to Laura Boyd, in her TedX talk After watching this, your brain will not be the same. According to Boyd [scroll to around 9:00 min], our behaviours shape our brains, more than anything else, and so practice is the most effective tool for learning and change. “The bottom line is, you have to do the work”, she says. I put that in quotes because I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but there you have it, no wonder drugs to make the brain changeable just good ‘ol practice. And, the more difficult the activity, the more learning takes place. This works for both positive and negative behaviours; enter addiction. But we’ve known this forever right? For sure, but for me, knowing this is a scientific, neurological fact makes it more real for me. Before there was always a loophole, like maybe there’s another way. No, it seems, there isn’t. We will in fact have to meditate (almost) every day, in order to turn it into a habit. Dammit.
The second thing I discovered in an On Being interview with Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook Chief Operating Officer) and Adam Grant (Psychologist) about resilience in the context of grief. Our brains are wired for the negative. Think of always having to be on the alert in case a sabre tooth tigers wonders into your camp – it’s a survival thing. Because our brains are wired this way, trying to get yourself out of a slump by making a list of all the things to be grateful for is not the best way. The best way, says Grant, is to think of how it could be worse. Because it’s a negative thought, the brain happily latches on to it, without the resistance it would have to a nice, cheery thought, and voilà, you’re grateful, and happier! And if you’re stuck in self-pity and can’t think of anything worse, listen to the interview for Sheryl’s example. So, when your annoyingly cheery colleague tells you to look on the bright side, nod your head, and quietly think how it could be worse.
References and Further reading/watching/listening:
Laura Boyd’s TedX talk, After watching this, your brain will not be the same: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNHBMFCzznE
Krista Tippett’s On Being interview with Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant: https://onbeing.org/
For more on our brains negative wiring see: Psychology Today article by Ray Williams, Wired for Success: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201406/are-we-hardwired-be-positive-or-negative
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