It’s been almost a month since my first trip to New York City, that dream-scape city of my dreams. I sat in a bookstore called Shakespeare’s and wrote about rewiring my brain the way an explorer navigates a new trail. You see, I realized that I cannot continue to follow the same worn-out mental paths and expect to find a new, fulfilling oasis. No, the same path will lead to the same, stale, worn-out places in my mind.
I am brave enough to admit to myself that I’ve gone as far as I can go using certain routes. But if I am used to following old familiar paths, day after day, how the hell do I find a new path?
That’s when I realized, I have to learn to forge new mental pathways. This is the concept of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change over time. The truth is that my brain gets stuck in certain neural pathways that keep me reliving the same tired ways of existing, like that episode of Black Mirror (no, that other episode of Black Mirror.) But neural plasticity shows me that I have the opportunity (the responsibility, really) to re-make the pathways in my brain in order to achieve a better quality of existence.
I’ve been an adventurer lately, wandering down new neural pathways, creating them bit by bit. It helps me to change my brain patterns by imagining that I’m a lone explorer, charting new territory. Here are six steps that I’ve noted to help me take advantage of my brain’s ability to adapt.
Step 1. Accept that the current pathway is flawed, and will not get me where I need to go. I find that this is the hardest step for my fragile human ego, because it requires me to do something that tends to make me feel really crappy: it requires me to admit that I was wrong.
Step 2. Choose to turn off the worn, familiar path. This step is tricky because the original (flawed) path seems like the only path, and this is kind of true, because in all reality the new path does not exist (yet). Note: this step is only doable after Step 1 is fully achieved. I don’t recommend jumping past Step 1 without deep introspection and self-reflection, because otherwise I find myself lost, and I return to the old path with a vengeance.
Step 3. Pause. Use intuition. Pray. Meditate. Feel past the fear of leaving the flawed path – recognizing that this discomfort is part and parcel of taking an unfamiliar turn – and listen for the new, better directions. Besides the constant discomfort of the unfamiliar, does this new path feel okay? Does it feel better, does it feel sustainable?
Step 4. Keep hacking at the dense growth of what will eventually be the new path. Use the machete of the mind to hack at the bushes and brambles, thus forming a fresh route. The first, second, third attempts at Step 4 feel damn near impossible, but not quite impossible. Remember to rest. Go slow. Sleep. Eat. Try again later. It doesn’t have to look neat or feel familiar or even good. Remember that, and if it’s too hard to remember, go back to Step 1.
Step 5. Place guideposts along the new path. Place signs saying “Road Closed” and “Turn Back” and “Wrong Way” on the old, flawed path. Place signs saying “This Way” and “Keep Going” on the new, unearthed path.
Step 6. Trace the new path as often as possible. Soon it becomes the familiar path, and eventually, the only path. Simultaneously, allow the flawed path to become overgrown and forgotten.
I believe that by following these steps, I can rewire my brain toward positive, life-altering, world-altering change.