Katie Alexander, MA LPC
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”
I am sure you’ve heard this saying before many times. Perhaps you’ve also believed it for yourself or for others. So often I hear people say they feel “stuck” within themselves, their lives, their circumstances, etc. and they truly believe there is no escape from trudging through life in this way. This restrictive way of thinking also presents some other hardships such as lack of hope and believing one does not have the power to affect positive change in their life.
Regardless of if you do or do not fall into line with this way of thinking, I hope you stick with me here.
For a long time it was thought that what we had was what we got, and that there was no changing this matter. However, decades of research have proven the exact opposite and we now know that our brains have an amazing ability to change. Researchers use the term ‘Neuroplasticity’ to indicate that our brains (Neuro) are flexible (Plastic).
For the purpose of this post, and without using all of the scientific jargon, I am going to break it down so you can actually affect change today.
As a human being, we have the ability to make choices, right? And while there are hundreds of things that could happen to us on any given day that are outside of our control, we still get to choose how to respond to the uncontrollable. Every choice we make and every thought we think has an impact on how the brain functions. Basically, we have pathways in our brains and when we think a certain thought, such as “I am a bad person”, over and over again, this pathway in the brain gets bigger and stronger. Just like a highway, the bigger and stronger the pathway is, the more it will be used. The saying “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” really plays a big role here because if we are able to replace that way of thinking with something else such as, “I am a good person who sometimes does bad things”, then we are creating a new pathway in the brain that may lead to a healthier and more positive concept of self. Every time we make the choice to think either “I am a bad person” or “I am a good person who sometimes does bad things” we are quite literally taking control of changing how our brain functions, and with that, making an impact on the way we view ourselves.
Just as with anything, this power to change can be used for better or for worse. We can either continue thinking along the same patterns that we have been our entire lives – the same patterns of thinking that are now leaving you feeling stuck – or we can choose to replace these unhelpful thoughts with something new. Over time and with regular practice, those unhelpful thoughts will become weaker while the healthier thoughts will become stronger.
Which not-so-helpful thoughts have you been thinking lately? We all have them. Sometimes they have even been with us since we were kids.
If you have any interest in making positive changes in your life, I encourage you to explore this part of yourself and see what you notice.