5 Ways to Rewire Your Brain for Positive Change

Everything we want is just a step beyond our comfort zone. So why are our feet so glued?

Because making decisions in the face of the unknown is paralyzing, even if our current situation is awful, we prefer the comfort of familiarity.

When the first plane hit the North Tower on September 11, Marissa Panigrosso who worked on the 98th floor of the South Tower didn’t hesitate, not even taking her purse, she made her way down all those stairs.

The impact from the North Tower knocked Marissa out of her chair, and the heat through her window was like a furnace. Yet many colleagues remained in their seat, and even returned to meetings.

Behavioral psychologists call it “panic paralysis.” When faced with an unfamiliar or harmful situation, the brain struggles to process the unknown; it goes into mental freeze.

So, just when you’re about to take that step toward your new dreams and goals, the uncharted territory brings on mental paralyses; your brain freezes, and your feet are glued.

The map of our brain, shaped through decades of nature and nature, deeply ingrain behaviors and causes us to function on autopilot. Thankfully, neuroplasticity highlights the ability to rewire your brain, change your behaviors, and change your life.

Trying to exert willpower against the grain of our brain-maps is like swimming against a tsunami.

Here are 5 simple strategies to begin to rewire your brain:

1. Symptom Prescription 

It’s the paradoxical technique of increasing the intensity of the fear you’re striving to overcome.

Psychotherapists explain that it works because the more you extend the boundaries of un-comfort, the more you also extend your resilience. It’s like the regular chili eater who now depends on habaneros. Once you identify the specific fear that holds you back, repeatedly doing an act that brings on that fear, in increasingly small doses, weakens the fear. Talking to a stranger each day will lead to overcoming social shyness.

2. The Habit Loop

We’re creatures of habit. In labcoat lingo: “Neurons that fire together wire together” —every time we repeat a behavior, the dirt road becomes a highway in our brain. It’s the same in reverse: break an action, weaken the neural connection.

Habit expert and author Charles Duhigg deconstructs habit formation into—

Cue: You finish work.
Routine: You walk past the donut shop and grab half a dozen caramel-filled goodies.
Reward: You get the fleeting feel-good of a sugar high.

Awareness leads to change; and it become easy to replace the routine and/or reward. You can opt for a healthier sweet, or seek a different high—endorphins and exercise; or you can change the route you walk home.

Think through the detrimental habits holding you back, break them down, and begin to replace them with positive alternatives.

3. Neuroplasticity Exercises

Increasing the “plasticity” of your brain means it’s more fluid and adept at change and growth. Simple exercises include changing hands when bruising your teeth, signing your name or writing the alphabet with your other hand, taking a different route to work, changing your daily routine and workouts, trying a new dish at a new restaurant.

Letting your curiosity have it’s way comes with neurological benefits, and will strengthen your ability to make life changes when they’re necessary. A conscious decision to do something different a few days a week will help your brain become more fluid and your behaviors more flexible.

4. Dereflection 

A Logotherapy technique developed by Viktor Frankl. We get so absorbed into an issue or attainment of a goal that the focus becomes a fight and obstacle—trying to fall asleep will often keep us awake. The classic dereflection technique is to count sheep.

The key is to shift your focus to an alternative course, but still related to the goal. E.g. writing a series of short chapters rather than focusing on the book; making it to the next water-stop while running a marathon. It’s cliché, but shifting the focus from the destination to the journey, inadvertently will bring you to the destination.

5. Mental Rehearsal 

As you mentally rehearse your dreams being played out, breaking through fear barriers, the brain responds as if you’re doing them in real life, and giving you a mental confidence. Dopamine, endorphins, and other brain chemicals are released even when imagining positive events.

Journaling and meditation are also great exercises to think through your dreams and rewire your brain. Setting 15-minutes aside every morning for visualization will fuel you with the confidence to take action.