by Michael J. Klassen
In the past few years, scientists have made some pretty amazing discoveries about the brain. This in turn, has impacted the way addictions and psychological disorders are being treated by mental health professionals.
Remember the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Well it ain’t necessarily so. The brain is much more adaptable than we once believed.
Here’s how it works. I’ll keep it simple so I won’t bore you—and so I can understand it myself: your brain is composed of billions of cells which connect with one another into neuron superhighways, called neuropathways. Your innate and learned responses follow specific neuropathways in your brain in order to function.
For example, remember how it felt when you first tried to ride a bike? You felt wobbly and, if you’re like me, your bike became a heat-seeking missile hot on the path of the fast-approaching telephone pole. Now THAT was a painful experience! But you needed some time to learn because you didn’t have any neuropathways in your brain that told you how to ride a bike.
To a great extent, addictions are behaviors that follow specific neuropathways in our brains. Even the emotions we feel about certain people and the way we see ourselves follow specific pathways in our brains. You could say that they serve as our default settings.
So how do we change our default settings? We change the way we think. This brings new meaning to Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (NKJV). We become what we think. Studies are now indicating that positive people actually have a greater likelihood of positive outcomes occurring in their lives. All those people who were taping cut-out photos of their head superimposed over cut-outs of finely sculpted bodies from a grocery store magazine were onto something.
Stroke victims are now being trained to imagine themselves using their lifeless limbs—and amazingly enough, those limbs are coming back to life. Their brains just need time to build a new neuropathway.
This also explains why meditating on Scripture can be so beneficial. By meditating on God’s word, we are changed. Read Psalm 119 to discover what the psalmist knew about this.
Obviously, certain limitations prevent us from doing whatever we envision. I’m physically unable to fly. Nor will I ever envision myself into becoming anything more than a bricklayer when it comes to basketball.
But, you can change your feelings toward people. If you have a hard time forgiving someone, begin imagining yourself forgiving that person. If you’re in a dead marriage, envision what your marriage could be. If you’re struggling with an addiction, build a new neuropathway by envisioning yourself as a healthy person. Granted, these are only one of many steps toward healthy lives, but they’re significant steps in the right direction.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Psalm 139:14 (NIV)
If you’d like to read more about this, check out the following websites:
Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. After spraining his brain, he’s now in training for his first mental gymnastics competition.