Marsha: I need to take charge of my life. John: How would you like to try something? Something that’s kind of new?
M: It’s a pleasure having lunch with you, John, but I’ll tell you, I’m dragging. I’m lagging. I’m — what else rhymes with dragging? I don’t know if I’m actually depressed, but I feel like I’m going nowhere.
J: We’ve been friends for years, Marsha. I always think of you as having it together.
M: Outwardly, yes, I suppose so. Nice job — but it’s going nowhere, really. Nice boyfriend, but ditto. Going nowhere. And so on.
J: Feel like you’ve come to a stop — or like you’re drifting.
M: Yes. I feel like I need to get my life moving. To take charge of my life.
J: Well, listen. Here’s something I picked up from a book by Sir John Maddox, the editor of Nature — the science journal. When he retired in 1995, he wrote a kind of big-picture science overview, What Remains To Be Discovered.
And in the area of psychology — I’m on the subject of getting your life moving, is where I’m going with this — Sir John wrote — I can give it to you from memory, I’ve thought about it so many times —
With the prospect that there may soon be an explanation in terms of how neurons are organized and behave, it is inevitable that psychology should have largely become a handmaiden of neuroscience (with fancy names such as 'cognitive psychology' to mark the change). The interesting question is how soon psychologists will begin to define the questions that will or should concern them when there is a rounded understanding of how the brain works.
What he’s saying is, in the past a psychologist might help you see that your parents had trouble directing their lives, too — and maybe you have that model, and other emotional problems that are holding you back. And then the psychologist talks to you about changes you might make in your life, and so on.
But now science is learning that the networks of neurons in our brains that activate each other in regular patterns pretty much dictate what we do.
And the point is this: You can change your existing patterns, and create new ones, and in that way, change your everyday behavior.
How do you stop old patterns of behavior, and create new ones? Mostly, by intending to make a change. If someone makes me angry, and I’m ready to say something back in anger, I stop myself, and tell myself something like this —
"No. I hear what someone is saying to me, but my ‘lead anger neuron’ so to speak is not going to start my ‘anger network’ shooting back at this person. My ‘lead anger neuron,’ instead, is going to trigger a new ‘holding pattern’ network — and then the ‘holding network’ will decide how to answer the angry statement this person has just made to me.”
The idea is first to stop your ‘anger neurons’ from firing back in anger, and second to create a new network of neurons that will reply to angry statements.
M: But John — are you saying these ideas — and these labels, like 'anger network' — are you saying you can actually force your biological brain to change the patterns your neurons follow, by thinking these things?
J: Yes. Well, all you’re doing is teaching your neurons new patterns. Like a piano student who learns the wrong fingering, and has to work again and again on learning the correct fingering. The piano student is learning new muscle patterns, and new neuron patterns, that will replace the wrong fingering.
I wake up in the morning and create my day
So here’s what one writer says about taking control of your life —
"I wake up in the morning and I consciously create my day the way I want it to happen….But here’s the thing: When I create my day, and out of nowhere little things happen that are otherwise unexplainable, I know that they are the process or the result of my creation."
And the more that happens, this writer says, the more he builds a neural network in his brain that lets him see his effort to take charge is working.
He can see that his efforts to plan his days are paying off, and that gives him — he says — a huge daily boost in his self-confidence. And it gives him what he needs to plan the next day, and the day following that.
In a word, if you think a change, your neurons will make the change. Of course, it may take some time — but I appreciate even the smallest improvements, and I see improvement on a regular basis.
So Marsha, start planning your days carefully — stick to your plans, take note of the results you get, and your neurons will begin to sense a greater control over your life as the days go by.
M: Fabulous, John. Let me pick up the bill.
— Book by John Maddox — What Remains to Be Discovered: Mapping the Secrets of the Universe, The Origins of Life and the Future of the Human Race, The Free Press, 434 pages, ISBN 0-684-82292-X, 1998.
Quotation by Dr. Joe Dispenza — “I wake up in the morning”, www.ijourney.org, June 27, 2005.