How to Live Well and Stay Well

Are we hard wired for life or can we change?

Not too many years ago it was thought that brain capacity was related to intelligence so the smaller the brain capacity, the less intelligent the person. Thankfully, that was debunked along with the idea that the world is flat.

In 2007, when Dr Norman Doidge announced that a brain can change itself, it was a game-changer. Neuroplasticity? Sounds more like a pastime involving a lump of plasticine and half a dozen children than anything to do with the brain. In reality, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. The brain is plastic, not fixed!

Last century we believed that we were born with a certain number of brain neurons and that we dispatched them with drugs, alcohol and hard-living! This century, we know that the hippocampus produces at least 700 neurons every day and each of these neurons are highly trainable.

So, are we hard wired for life or can we change?

Are we the products of our early childhood or traumatic experiences, chronic illness or injury or can we heal and change?

While healing can occur without conscious effort, it appears we can accelerate the process through conscious practices. New research shows that various modalities of psychotherapy can change our state of mind and the state of our brains and can have the same effect as antidepressant medication while not being a replacement for medication.

It seems the initial wiring of our brains is less our destiny than we previously believed. In the body’s biochemical flow, there is an ocean of new possibilities waiting to support our new goals. We can reduce our pre-programmed, mechanical reactions to the world and increase our capacity to meet the world as a fresh experience by choosing to respond, rather than react.

If healing means being freed from conditioned, programmed reactions to the world, then being healed is the capacity to choose fresh responses to each situation as it presents itself.

Our story doesn’t change but our ability to change our response to our story does. Healing begins when we remove the blocks to this natural process. Healing accelerates when we participate consciously in the process. Our habitual patterns are not useful in helping us get free of the past.

If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always have had in the past.

Willingness does not come easily when we have spent a lifetime reinforcing our vision of reality. We seldom change without discomfort. Suffering seems to be a great impetus for change! One of our first steps to change is bringing to consciousness that which was previously unconscious.

As we become more aware of our reactions and patterns, we come to recognise how our habits encourage us to favour our old patterns. We begin to see how by not favouring the deeply worn ruts in our consciousness, we can instead choose fresh responses and create different outcomes.

Science is now saying that training in contemplative practice can change our brain. Our reactions are always in the body; our tummy turns, our heart-rate increases, our breathing becomes more shallow and rapid, we may tense our jaw, neck or shoulders, our palms might get sweaty, our head can feel like it will burst, our face my blush, we might get shaky in our legs. It’s always good to ask yourself when you’re in the middle of a reaction, “How old do I feel right now?” We’re nearly always feeling like a little child.

We are literally re-activating the physiology of the four, five, six or seven-year-old. And we don’t want to speak from that! Or act from that! A response takes us into new territory!

Long term change requires long term diligent practice. The good news is that such practice can bring results that can seem nothing less than miraculous. People often think that addiction only applies to drugs like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. As humans we can be addicted to our old patterns of behaviour and reactions because they are familiar, we own them, and we simply don’t know how to change.

Changing old patterns

Changing our old patterns can be painful and difficult. The first step is simply the WILLINGNESS to want to change. Whatever your process, you can change. You are not your story, you have a story. You are not your brain, you have a brain. We are all fully able to heal our past, change our neural networks and recover from emotional addictions and live much happier and healthier lives. The events of our lives do not change, how we respond to them does.

Learn how to “live well and stay well” at a Quest for Life program. Visit our Residential Programs page for more information.

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