Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Connecting Experiences with Emotions: Neurons that Fire together, Wire Together

I encountered a fantastic blog post by Tara Brach, a writer I recommend highly for her insight into how we can be happier and be the person we imagine we could be.

Here's the opening paragraph:
"In the book My Stroke of Insight, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor explains that the natural life span of an emotion—the average time it takes for it to move through the nervous system and body—is only a minute and a half, a mere ninety seconds. After that, we need thoughts to keep the emotion rolling. So, if we wonder why we lock into painful emotional states like anxiety, depression, or rage, we need look no further than our own endless stream of inner dialogue
Modern neuroscience has discovered a fundamental truth: Neurons that fire together, wire together. When we rehearse a looping set of thoughts and emotions, we create deeply grooved patterns of emotional reactivity. This means that the more you think and rethink about certain experiences, the stronger the memory and the more easily activated the related feelings become."
It can be hard to separate negative thoughts and emotions from the things we are reacting to. Once we've got into the habit of "wiring together" a situation with an emotion or a thought, it's hard even to imagine they are really two different things.

I've been able to use a technique (called positive mind) borrowed from my Kokikai Aikido practice, to "rewire" at least some of my emotional reactivity. I actively practice reacting positively to situations that upset me. When I can't make an aikido technique work, or I flub a note on the piano, instead of thinking, "What a failure I am!" or,"I look so stupid!" I seek a positive reaction and repeat that: "There is something I can do to get this right, and I know I can figure out what it is!" "Remember how much better I did this today than last week! I can fix this!" or just, "Anything is possible!"

I feel that I can take an active part in creating my inner dialogue, by "rehearsing a looping set of thoughts and emotions" and "creating deeply grooved patterns of emotional reactivity" - but doing so with thoughts and emotions that benefit me, instead of short-changing me.

I've used examples about music and aikido practice here, because that's the main focus of this blog, but I use this technique constantly in all aspects of my life. It has made me happier. And it has made me more like the person I believe I can be.