Calling all nerds! This week’s Staff Development Spotlight was written especially for you! Josh Merriam, VoiceNation web designer and fellow nerd, took the mic in staff development this week to teach us about the science behind our habits with a little help from Charles Duhigg and Dr. Caroline Leaf. So get ready for some neuroplasticity and brain-hackery as we dig deeper into what makes us function.
Up until a few years ago, it was thought that the brain could never change. Scientists believed that we were born with our brains functioning in a particular way and that it would always follow the same patterns. Yet, in just the last few years of study, it was determined that the brain is constantly changing. Simply stated, our brains can be trained. This concept of the ever-changing brain is called neuroplasticity.
In order to understand our brains on a deeper level, it is important to clarify one important difference: your brain and your mind are two separate things. Your mind is made up of your emotions, intellect, and thought processes. Your mind is what makes decisions and makes you the one and only you. Your mind controls your brain. As you think and process and make decisions, the neurons in your brain react and line up. Where your mind goes, your brain follows.
Where your mind goes, your brain follows.
What does all of this have to do with staff development and our habits? Hang with me, I promise I’m going somewhere.
Your thoughts are important. They are not just abstract creations floating into the universe. Believe it or not, your thoughts are made of proteins that take up physical real estate in your brain. Not only that, but those thoughts and memories look different when you’re thinking healthy thoughts vs. toxic thoughts. Every time you tell yourself something, good or bad, chemical reactions are sent through your neurons to your thoughts. The more you think something, the more it grows the thought and takes up more real estate in your brain. These thoughts then affect your brain chemistry, which affects your blood chemistry, which moves throughout your entire body.
Ultimately, your thoughts affect your health mentally, emotionally, and physically.
So what does this mean for you and your habits? It means that a healthy thought life is just as important a healthy physical life. Controlling your thoughts does not mean escapism and pretending that the facts aren’t the facts. It means taking charge and training your brain the same way that you would physically train your muscles. Think of it as physical therapy. It is a painful, exhausting, and horribly stressful struggle to push through and retrain your body to perform it’s own basic movements after that capability has been lost. Your brain is no different.
We are faced with decisions every day. We can choose to see the negative in ourselves, our relationships, and our circumstances, or we can choose to heal our brain of the trauma and pain of past circumstances by removing the toxic thoughts and making room for what’s healthy. If we are going to develop habits no matter what, why not fight to make them healthy?