Your Plastic Brain and the Power of Language
Are you aware of your internal dialogue and in what kind of voice you usually speak to yourself? Friendly? Annoyed? Condescending? Encouraging? In other words, is your self-talk positive or negative? Is it supportive or harsh? The power of language is infinite; it influences our thoughts and therefor our actions. So, how to use it to our advantage?
You might say, ‘I’m always hard on myself, I can’t help it.’ ‘I’m a perfectionist. I’ve been that way for ever.’ Or, ‘I’ve inherited a pessimistic outlook. My mom is the same.’ For being a perfectionist, hard on yourself, judgmental, unforgiving, or having a dark outlook, you pay a high price. You probably never feel fulfilled and your health might suffer from this state of mind. And has it paid off? Are you successful, yet?
Twenty years ago I sabotaged myself constantly. This was especially true in my career, believing what I thought was real. I beat myself up, used cruel language, jumped to conclusions, thought I could read minds, was an expert in fortune telling and had an uncanny aptitude for disqualifying the positive. Then I learned new ways of thinking that actually change the brain neurons and the pathways between them. It is called ‘neuro-plasticity.’ Not only can people with brain damage recover from their injury by following a very specific exercises routine, it can also help us change our default setting of thought processing. To cultivate our overall lives we first need to purify our minds. Confucius said in his Rectification of the Mind, “When the root is in disorder the branches can’t be in order.”
Confucius 2,500 years old words of wisdom have been backed up in the past 20 years by an official new science, Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology and its applications have been on the rise since it’s official status as a degree program in 1998. Together with the science of brain plasticity, a whole new era of possibilities has risen to improve well-being and to acquire success (and even to avoid Alzheimers!). You could call it a ‘short cut.’ Instead of digging into (forgotten) traumas of the past to find out why you’re so critical to yourself in order to solve problems in the here and now into the future, scientists have found less painful and more effective ways for healing and to improve well-being. We all know that struggling can build character but if you have the opportunity to advance your overall mood and advance your goals without tears and agony, who would say no to that?
The PERMA model by Dr. Seligman, one of the the founders of positive psychology, (Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment), Dr. Fredrickson’s model of ‘3-to-1 Ratio,’ Angela Duckworth’s ‘Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance,’ the Father of Brain Plasticity Dr. Michael Merzenich’s BrainHQ exercises, to name just a few, all show how you can help yourself to create a brain that’s on your side. Here is what you can do to move forward, feel more fulfilled and make your dreams come true:
You need to be determined, have perspective and courage, breed flexibility and resilience, build stamina and become confident. To assemble these self-regulatory skills, you have to start with positive language: Use language that encourages perseverance and that praises your own effort. In other words, praise yourself for what you do not for what you are. Surround yourself with people who have both passion and work steadily towards their goals. See difficulties as an opportunity to learn, not as a problem you can’t solve. Have a sense of purpose even if it seems insignificant. Small short term goals will keep you motivated to keep working to increase your success.
The physiology of the brain can change when new neural connections are made. The more you practice new skills and novel ways of thinking, each time your brain strengthens a connection to advance your mastery of this skill. It also weakens other connections of neurons that weren’t used at that precise moment. And your brain determines whether it should adopt it permanently or not. In other words, if you change your inner condescending dialogue into positive language the plastic brain erases your old, habitual, negative way. Instead of saying to yourself when you make a mistake, “God, I’m such a loser!” say for example, “I gave it an honest try,” and try again. According to Dr. Duckworth, grit is a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal. It is the hallmark of high achievers in every domain. And grit can grow. Thoughts catapult people into being successful or lead them to fail. Success is 90% attitude and 10% hard work.
If your mom has a pessimistic outlook, you don’t have to inherit it. If you have been a perfectionist forever, you don’t have to be any longer, if you don’t want to, that is. You brain is plastic and you can mold it the way you want. Catch your inner dialogue and start making positive connections.
Have a plastious day!