One of the ways we perpetuate our self-defeating behaviors is to convince ourselves that change may be possible for some people, but not for us. We are who we are, and that’s just the way it is. To make matters worse, we tell ourselves that even if we did somehow manage to change, we wouldn’t be able to sustain it because there were certain things we simply could not do without artificially altering our reality, or engaging in our habits.
Just a few moments of disparaging self-talk can make the change process seem to us like a towering mountain we can’t climb, and even if we could climb it we would surely die somewhere on the other side. Perhaps we have no personal examples of self-change we can recall to give us the confidence that we can climb the mountain and survive. The fact is that we do have examples, many of them, but to bring them into focus we have to look at ourselves a little more deeply than we are used to.
Who are you? If I asked you that question, there are many ways you might answer it. You might tell me a little about your background, your work history, your relationships, or your worldview. You might show me a picture, or tell me about your political leanings. You might even delve into your using history as a way of defining yourself. Even if you could tell me everything you know about “you” in a few moments, I submit that you still wouldn’t be answering the question—not really.Continue reading
In February, I had the opportunity to address a group here in Ajijic on the topic of neuroplasticity, and how it applies to addiction and an ageing population. The video is in three segments, and totals about 40 minutes in length. The talk was given on the 19th of February, following three weeks that were unseasonably chilly here, and we even had a little rain, if anyone is curious about the references to the weather in the first part of the talk.
The venue was our Sunday morning “Open Circle” gathering. Each week we have a speaker on a different topic, typically someone local with specialized expertise in a certain area. They let me speak anyway, and, in fact, they let me come back on April 22nd to talk about Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, which I’ll be posting here in a week or so.
Enjoy the video! When you reach the end of the first segment, click on the little white box to start the second segment. Rinse, repeat.
As time goes on, more and more studies are indicating that mindfulness is an important part of recovery. Even in 12-step, mindfulness plays a role in the correct interpretation of step 10. In the cognitive therapies, mindfulness is an important component.
How do we go about ‘cultivating’ mindfulness? Do we have to begin a formal Zen practice? Must we become a Buddhist, and if so, what particular sect? Should we resign our present religion, if any, give away all our possessions, and go into a monastery? Fortunately, the answer to all those questions is a resounding no!
Mindfulness is nothing other than being there, present to our lives, and in the moment. What does it mean to be “in the moment?” it means nothing more than chopping wood when you are chopping wood, washing dishes when you are washing dishes, and talking with a friend when you are talking with a friend. It means that when you are doing those things, you are doing those things, and you are not mentally “somewhere else.”Continue reading
What we can learn, we can unlearn
Up to now, we have been discussing neuroplasticity as though our brain is a one-way street, but that’s definitely not the case. Our brain is totally fluid, what we can learn we can unlearn just as quickly. In the first part of this chapter, I mentioned that our neural circuits are pruned to the tune of 20 billion synapses a day, or so, during adolescence, and this practice continues, although at a slower rate, for our entire lives.
Pathways we don’t use simply shrivel-up and die. We forget people, places, and things; we lose skills, some acquired with a great deal of effort; we change habits, likes, dislikes, political parties; we adapt new ways of doing things, discarding the old; in other words, if we are the sum of our experiences, we become different people over time, and this is all a result of neuroplasticity.
Baseball players have batting practice every day, during the season, and many continue all winter; actors rehearse again, and again, and again; in fact, every learned skill must be practiced to maintain the neural circuits we have created, or we lose it, over time. Jascha Heifetz, the renowned violinist is rumored to have said: “If I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.”Continue reading