Train your brain

Carrie Fenn

A few weeks ago, I realized I needed an attitude adjustment. I felt as though everything that came out of my mouth was laced with indignation, my thoughts as I fell asleep were fraught with negativity and I found most things (with the exception of my husband and grandchildren) in my arguably perfect life annoying. I was angry about the political climate, my lack of downtime, work stress and my plethora of unfinished projects. As I felt myself spiraling into a pattern of negative thought (which is particularly scary for me because I come from a family that suffers from bipolar disorder), I checked myself, made some changes in lifestyle, and most importantly, started working on viewing things around me differently. In an amazingly short amount of time, my attitude adjustment worked and I turned things around. Work got better, the unpainted porch stopped bothering me, and while the political climate in this country is driving me mad, I’ve chosen to focus on areas of government that give me hope. 

My success in this endeavor got me thinking about the power of positive thought, and the danger of the negative. I don’t know anything about cognitive science, but I do love to ponder human nature and the forces that motivate us (lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about power- specifically how those who have it crave more of it, and how that craving may lead them to moral turpitude. But I digress).

Because we live in a digital age, I was able to quickly pull up several articles on neuroplasticity, the ability to change one’s brain throughout one’s life. I know we have a few neuroscientists here in Charlotte, so before they get their feathers ruffled let me explain that I am not attempting an expose into the extremely complicated chemistry of the brain.  But I did find a few things that I feel are worth sharing.   Throughout our lives, our brains grow and adapt, and research shows that thought changes the structure of the brain. Research also shows that rumination, repeatedly going over the same thought or problem without working towards a solution, has a direct line to the depression and anxiety centers of the brain. So, as I was ruminating over the things that were bothering me, I was deepening my own anxiety about those things, leading me to more negativity. Breaking those trains of thought and thinking about positive solutions helped me to look at the problems in a completely different light. 

This past week, I took a class on wood-fired bread baking at Sterling College. While there, I became friends with a chef from Florida. At some point during the week, I told him about my attitude adjustment (and my theory about power hungry people). He assured me that I was on the right track.

“When I was in high school, my family was poor. I wore second hand clothes and had no confidence. Kids made fun of me, and I got beat up a lot. One day, I got sick of it and told one of my tormentors I was done. He still beat me up, but one of the more popular kids came up to me later and told me he was proud of me for sticking up for myself. After that, I decided I didn’t want to get picked on any more. I started emulating the popular kid, watching how he carried himself, the things he did, the way he dressed. I changed how I dressed and how I acted around people, I started working out after school, and eventually the cool kids started noticing me and inviting me to their outings. My life got better, I was much happier, and it was all a result of me changing my attitude toward my life. My circumstances didn’t change, but I did.”

We have an incredible amount of power within our brains, and an incredible amount of flexibility to change our outlook. I’m trying to look at everything with a smile on face and a lightness of being that has often eluded me. I wish the same for you.