How You Are Teaching Your Brain to be Anxious
As discussed by Yuval Noah Harari, humans use stories to create culture and define what is important to ourselves and our children. In the same way, we do this for our brains. By focusing on certain thoughts we create meaning in our brains and provide information on what is important in our lives.
Similarly, as children learn their culture's fairy tales and stories we teach ourselves thought patterns and ways of viewing the world. Of course, our culture, upbringing, and environment have a strong effect on what we think and learn. Yet, we are actually in full control in determining which stories stick and which do not.
For instance, many of us give our anxious thoughts quite a bit of attention throughout the day. Why are we thinking these thoughts? Why can't we just be happy? How can we solve all these problems our brain is suggesting we have?
So we go on ruminating on a solution or engaging in self-care to try to ease our anxiety. The issue here is that focus is the most important aspect of learning for the brain. We can use focus as a mode of self-directed neuroplasticity.
This may sound complex, but self-directed neuroplasticity is just a scientific way of saying the things we think about are the things we are going to think about in the future. By focusing on certain thoughts we teach our brain they are important. The brain builds stronger neuronal networks around the thoughts which makes it easier for us to access them.
So how do we stop creating networks around thoughts that are not helping us? Don't give them attention. Many of us take our thoughts a little too seriously. Remember that all thoughts are just suggestions from the brain. You do not need to engage in every thought your brain offers you.
So as your brain does what it is meant to this week and offers you a wide range of suggestions, try to run these thoughts through the filter of:
Is this thought good information in helping me make a positive change in my life?
If the answer is no, then give thanks to your brain for being so creative and move on. It's normal to have negative, anxious thoughts, but there is no need to teach your brain that these are the important aspects of your life.