Train Your Brain For Change

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:

How to rewire your brain
Changing your brain by changing your mind (don’t let the opening photo scare you away!)
Yourbrainonporn.com

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. 

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Train Your Brain For Change

  1. John Moyer MD

    Excellent primer on one aspect of neuroscience, brain training.
    As a I mentor a 13 year old from Chihuahua MX, I embarked at age 70 to learn Sergio’s native tongue!
    I think his parents “trust” me more, as I can sit in their home and converse at a basic level, about food, weather, simple stuff.
    The rapid fire of Spanish language “soap” baffles me, but I can comprehend the commercials.
    I have been able to proceed with a terrific teacher, 90 minutes/week, leaving the session with extreme (brain overuse)fatigue, lots of homework to do, but it’s working.
    Therefore I endorse learning a foreign language in your senior season of life!
    JPM MD

  2. Georgie-ann

    Excellent article & comment!

    To think that God has given us “His Word” — “His Truth” — what we really need to know about Him! — in written form: The Bible, something we can study, a tangible key to knowledge about Him! His Spirit inspired men to “record” His messages to us, for our benefit and guidance. How Good is that??!!

    Speaking of old adages: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” illustrates one of our human problems in adapting and processing changes, even changes for the better! The effort to create new neuro-pathways “feels like” pedaling uphill at first (and in “strange” territory!), and most of us prefer the coasting-downhill feeling of the easy and habitual, the comfortable, familiar, repeated and even passively entertaining. Ho hum — the easy effortless choices ultimately become a pathway to nowhere (or going around in plenty of circles), and a lot of wasted human potential — and whose fault is that?

    We take our tremendously overflowing educational opportunities for granted, and many even “resent” them. This is really foolishness, just like taking God’s blessings for granted. A lazy mind, passive and over-occupied/(pre-occupied) with perpetual, busy and even alluring distractions, will fail to recognize “the key to the door” and the “exit sign” for the way out of the problems we eventually find ourselves submerged in.

    Perhaps this is why, even before the days of pervasive electronics “that never sleep,” God advised a “selah” (pause and think on this) after every few verses of a psalm. Perhaps this is why we need “meditation on God’s Words to us” now more than ever,…and, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Perhaps you are describing the “the keys to the door” and the “exit sign” from our griefs and “the sins that so easily beset us.”

    Hebrews 12:1 “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

    Revelation 21:6 “And He [further] said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I [Myself] will give water without price from the fountain (springs) of the water of Life.”

    Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

    Dr. John,…I’m jealous of your language classes! They sound great!
    God Bless!

    • Georgie-ann

      Addendum:

      Ecclesiastes 11:9,10 [Seek God in Early Life]

      9 “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth,
      And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth;
      Walk in the ways of your heart,
      And in the sight of your eyes;
      But know that for all these
      God will bring you into judgment.
      10 “Therefore remove sorrow from your heart,
      And put away evil from your flesh,
      For childhood and youth are vanity.”

  3. Michael Gallup

    I rad your blog and I didn’t like it. so I read it a few more times and now I do like it!

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