A friend of mine who is a yoga teacher has a poster up in her apartment which reads: ‘You are what you practice’, immediately I think of the saying from the work of the psychologist Donald Hebb: "when neurons fire together, they wire together".
“When we learn something new, neurons that fire together wire together, and a chemical process occurs at the neuronal level … which strengthens the connections between the neurons. This means that people with learning problems, psychological problems, strokes or brain injuries might be able to form new neuronal connections by getting their healthy neurons to fire together and wire together.”1.
This also means that what we repeat strengthens. Like language for example or playing a musical instrument, repetition strengthens the neuronal connections.
However we might find ourselves practicing things that are less helpful like practicing resentment about the housework or anger in traffic or repetitive thoughts of things we must do. If we are often angry for example then we are strengthening those neural connections, if on the other hand we are often generous, patient and relaxed then the same applies.
The opposite occurs too, if we don’t use it we lose it: “When the brain unlearns the associations and disconnects neurons, a different chemical process occurs. Unlearning and weakening connections between neurons is just as plastic a process, and just as important, as learning and strengthening them.” 2.
We can learn to be more patient, calm, empathetic, secure, happy. And we can unlearn to be angry, anxious, depressed, impulsive, unhappy. Psychotherapy, counselling and psychology are all ways we can change the way we think and feel for the better. What flows through your mind sculpts your brain, thus you can use your mind to change your brain for the better. Psychotherapy helps us to work out what we DO and DON’T want to practice in life.
“Eric Kandel (Noble Prize 2000) proposes that when psychotherapy changes people, ‘it presumably does so through learning, by producing changes in gene expression that…alter the anatomical pattern of interconnections between nerve cells of the brain.’ Psychotherapy works by going deep into the brain and its neurons and changing the structure by turning on the right genes. Psychiatrist Dr Susan Vaughan has argued that the talking cure works by “talking to neurons”, and that an effective psychotherapist is a “microsurgeon of the mind” who helps the patient make needed alterations in neuronal networks.”3.
1.The brain that changes itself -Norman Doidge, M.D.
2. Same as 1
3. Same as 1