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Brains and Change

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Max Planck

Anger, hatred, and intolerance really are only stories we tell ourselves, as are compassion, love, and inclusion. With so much of the former flying around today, it pays to understand something about neuroplasticity, or the capacity of our brains to change over a lifetime. The more we do something, including having the same thoughts and performing the same actions, the more our brains physically conform to them, so that we keep thoughtlessly keep repeating them, regardless of whether they benefit us or harm us. Even more crucial, being exposed to the same things over and over does the same:

“…the external world comes to be represented within our brains and actually forms our physical brain’s synaptic (nerve) connections so that we have a model or mirror of the external world. As inside, so outside. As above, so below. This happens through our internalization of the stories that are being told around us.” (Lewis Mehl-Madrona, PhD, in Healing the Mind Through the Power of Stories.)

Thus, the more we hate and are exposed to hate, the more our brains lead us to hate. The more we love and are exposed to love, the more our brains lead us to love. All the vitriol we are now exposed to on a daily basis is changing us because of this process of internalization—but we can make it a positive change if we make a conscious effort to change our stories about what is happening in the world and within each one of us. Focus on love, compassion, and inclusion instead. Focus on what you love and would love to see happen instead of being overly and unendingly angry about what seems to be happening (righteous anger in the face of injustice is good and often necessary, but channel it into more positive emotions and actions instead). Work for positive change in ways that satisfy you and make you feel good, instead of hating and fighting against the people and policies you don’t like. You can tell which path you are on by the way your actions and thoughts make you feel inside.

One person at a time, we can restore ourselves and so create a better story for everyone. Yes, it’s hard but yes, we can.

In your journal:
Write about a positive change you would like to see in the world and how you might help it come about in positive, loving, compassionate ways. This does not have to be an earthshaking, grand, or grandiose thing. Remember that, often, the best thing we can do to promote positive change is to do the smaller things we can do within our own sphere of influence. What can you do in your own family and circle of acquaintances to make their world a better place?