Neuroscience, neuroplasticity, neurophysiology… what the neuro Cheryl??
Okay, listen – I never thought my yellow loving, prince adoring, history major self would end up here either. But here I am, and I’m totally fascinated.
So, neuroscience is the scientific study of the brain. The field is absolutely massive, and there is more and more being discovered every single day about how our intricate brain works.
Most remarkable to me is; in the last few decades it’s been scientifically proven that the brain we are born with does in fact change as we grow. The neurons that make connections when we are developing in the womb, when we are infants, and as we age – they are not cemented and fixed forever as was once thought. They indeed can be ‘re-wired.’
I came upon this idea, this ‘re-wiring’ of the brain – somewhat backwards at first.
In Blog #1 ‘About Me’ I shared my realization that, what I thought was a long ‘survival mode’ season, was really also my default coping mechanism – how I was programmed or ‘built.’
Therapy, books, mentors, mindfulness and much more allowed a safe place for me to experience this pivotal Ah-Ha moment. I came to understand how powerful awareness is. Once you are truly aware of something, you can’t become ‘unaware’ of it. You can ignore it I suppose, but I didn’t want to do that.
Can this dysfunctional default mode be changed? Can I learn to react differently from how I have learned to react all my life, some of it is so unconscious – how do you change that? I was in my early forties asking these questions. This time period reminded me of something my mom shared with me many times over the years. She always said that her first few years of getting sober were far more challenging than her drinking years. Because the tough stuff that drinking buried came to the surface, it needed to be dealt with, and it can be incredibly overwhelming.
(She read this entry and gave me permission to share that.)
Something else I grew up hearing my mom say is how she couldn’t believe she out lived her mother and Elvis. They both died when they were 42 years old. My mother was just 20 years old when her mom passed away. My grandmother Noreen Mae suffered from cancer in the 1970’s – a time when cancer treatments sounded like torture. I have a vivid memory of my Aunt, who was 4 years younger than my mom, describing the cobalt treatments she watched her mother endure. I won’t go into detail; her recollection was horrendous.
So, when my own 42nd birthday came along, it was kind of surreal for me. I was the age that my grandmother was when she died. When my mom & my Aunt said goodbye to their mom.
And I was doing pretty ok. Better than ok really. I had lived through my own near-death experience, survived divorce, reworked my career path, my daughter was healthy and thriving – things were really looking up. I had landed. I thought I had landed so many times before, and I did in certain ways I suppose – but this was different, I felt like I made it to the other side of literally almost a decade of really tough stuff.
So why didn’t I feel calm? I definitely felt happy, I was very proud and grateful. But there was still this intensity that I lived with that I couldn’t quite figure out. What was it?
Why was I constantly feeling like the ball was going to drop? I wanted to relish in the moment so badly, because I was so scared that it would end – that I couldn’t even enjoy it. Why was I blocking myself from the joy? Or wait – was I even sabotaging it?! Why would I do that to myself?
I was able to recognize some patterns, thanks to the personal development journey I had been through. I dove into more books, mindfulness, mentors. Some I spoke with often on the phone, and some have no idea who I am, or the tears that have rolled down my face in the shower as I sobbed listening their podcasts.
I am going to learn grace, dammit. Isn’t that quite the oxymoron?!
So began a new journey of wanting to change this ‘unconscious default survival mode’ way that I learned to deal with life. Awesome. How the heck does one do that?!
Well, for starters – I remembered from all my Cognitive Behavioural sessions, I first need to recognize when I am having a reaction that I want to stop. You can’t stop something if you don’t realize your doing it. I tried to really focus on opportunities where I could practice grace – in conversations, in relationships, and with myself. The more I looked, the more opportunities I saw. Sometimes I wasn’t very successful, and at times I still have to fight the default mode – especially if I am tired or hungry or super triggered. But, with wanting to truly disrupt this deep-rooted pattern in my life, I kept at it.
Sometimes I would just stop. I wouldn’t know how to react ‘properly’ in the moment so I would just literally stop. Not open my mouth. Not respond at all. Go dark. It was part of my process. But I knew that’s not where it ends. That’s not reeeeeally dealing with anything at all, that’s just ignoring it and hoping it magically goes away. That never solves an issue.
Now to pause on purpose? That’s powerful stuff. A pause to refocus, to take some time to think before continuing on – yes, this temporary silence was extremely instrumental on my journey of change.
Before long, I started thinking to myself – oh my goodness, I handled that so well!! For example, I didn’t take a screenshot and forward it on. (A pattern I recognized I did, that did not serve me in any positive/healthy way.) Go me – no drama woot! Well actually before that phase, I would still take the screen shot, sit with it, then delete it. Then came not taking the screenshot at all. It’s a process.
Then from not taking screenshots of something toxic or upsetting, I moved on to not engaging in those kinds of conversations either, or those relationships. I changed my outlook, I really changed it – it wasn’t perfect, but there was REAL change in how I looked at and dealt with certain situations – definitely different than I did before.
And I liked this way. It felt so freeing. It wasn’t heavy, messy or convoluted. It was light, gentle and peaceful and I loved it. I wanted more of this feeling. It almost switched from, trying to recognize where I can respond with grace, to actively searching out where I can apply it more!
Unbeknownst to me – guess what I did? I rewired neuron connections in my brain!! WHO KNEW? Not me?!
I just thought I experienced a piece of mindfulness success stemming from years of therapy, personal development, mentorship etc. And really putting all that I had learned into actual real-life practice in my daily world.
It was all that – but there was MORE. More that was actually happening, microscopically, in my brain.
Neuron pathways that automatically used to light up on subconscious demand, went dark. New sparks, new pathways were created and a new subconscious reaction developed.
Whoa. I know! But makes sense, right? Well, it sure did to me when I came across a neuroscience article in Social Media land. I can’t even recall the first one or where it popped up, but I remember reading and googling and clicking and listening and … and….
I was an algorithms dream.
Before long neuro ‘everything’ was literally everywhere when I looked up anything on my phone. I read and read, and read some more. It made sense to me because, I thought to myself, “I think that’s what happened to me! I think I rewired my brain!” (Well, one of the 85 billion pathways anyway.) But hey, still pretty amazing.
Could I do it again? Do other people do this? Can I help?
Where’s the club? Are there T-shirts? I am so all in.
Wait, what? What’s this? A Neuro Change Practitioner™?
Research, research & research some more. I am very intrigued.
Research some more…
Parent company in business since 1984, extremely credible.
More research, extremely impressed.
Further opportunities for Mentorship and Accreditation.
Okay. Application. Interview. Acceptance.
I’m doing it. I’M DOING IT!