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  • Dr. Nancy

Wired for Success

The idea that having a mindset of gratitude will somehow improve your health and extend your health span may be hard to grasp. However, neuroscience actually backs this up. We can be wired for success.

It was once believed that the brain you were born with was the brain you had for life, and it could not be altered. This hypothesis has long been replaced with the phenomenon of neural plasticity.

Gratitude wire the brain for optimism.

Neural Plasticity

Neurons and brain cells have the ability to adapt their structure and function in response to what is happening inside your body and in your environment. Only those neurons that are connected to your immediate experience through your senses and emotions will fire.

In addition, new neural connections will start to form within minutes. The more connected the neurons, the stronger, more responsive, and more effective that area of the brain will be.

Neural plasticity is this mechanism by which the brain and nervous system encodes experiences and learns new behaviors. We actually grow new nerve fibers and produce denser nerve networks through a process called arborization. Think of it like a tree expanding its branches or root system to support its growth.

Likewise, the brain and nervous system is continually pruning to cut back areas where there is little activity or stimulation. The neurons that aren’t as needed will eventually wither away.

Since we don’t want our body to waste precious energy or resources maintaining a highly energy dependent but dormant tissue, this withering away is normal and healthy. This is one way the brain grows into its most efficient self.

This process of pruning and natural selection happens continuously and innately by design. What we put our focus toward tends to expand our awareness and activation of the particular neural network that supports that stimulus.

Your Brain Seeks Efficiency

The brain and nervous system, like every other system and cell of the body, seeks efficiency. Repetition reinforces a pathway and increases its efficiency. Emotion in conjunction with repetition synergizes the effect. Use it and improve it.

Your mindset, emotions, and experiences all play a role in how your brain evolves and grows. Every time we have an experience, the corresponding neural network is activated. Every time it is activated, the neural network gains greater importance. Repeating or prolonging an experience will keep the connections between neurons strong and ensure they stay viable.

This is of critical importance to understand. Your mindset and emotions, both positive and negative, have a major effect on the structuring and functioning of your brain.

According to the National Science Foundation, 80 percent of our daily thoughts are negative, and 95 percent of those thoughts are repetitive thoughts. Many of these thoughts and perceptions make up our Internal Map of Reality, which was formed in childhood.

Courtesy of Centerpointe Research

These thoughts occur outside of our present time consciousness; it is like they are an automatic reflex. This does not set us up for success, especially when trying to make lifestyle changes. The magnitude of this negative thinking paralyzes us and prohibits consistent change in our behavior and choices, making it near impossible to create new habits.

Negativity elevates the stress response and all of the implications it has in the body. Stress has a profound effect on mitochondria, immunity and aging.

You are not doomed to live in negativity forever. In the same way that you can create a brain rooted in pessimism, you can redirect your neurology to support positivity. Remember, what we put our focus toward tends to expand our awareness and activation of the particular neural network that supports that stimulus.

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Think it and ink it. An important part of the intention and emotion around the practice of gratitude is generated with the power of the pen (or pencil). Keeping a gratitude journal ingrains the process on a deeper level, both emotionally and neurologically. It helps to make gratitude part of our life experience.

Focus on positive feelings and work to put a positive spin on situations and experiences. Your brain will adapt to reflect this new pattern. It will strengthen neuronal connections that support resilience, gratitude, and self-esteem. As you become deeply rooted in optimism and positivity, your stress level will decrease.

When you combine positive emotions and conscious optimism, you will grow neural networks associated with this mindset. This new, calm state will give you grace under pressure.

The daily practice of gratitude can change your life.

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