How Do You Rewire Your Brain for Optimization

We are constantly having thoughts and pondering throughout every hour of every day, and with all of this chatter, we need to ask “how do you rewire your brain for optimization?” Our brain and thoughts, specifically consistent patterns of thoughts, are difficult to change and habituate. Similar to the adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” it is an effort that sometimes appears to be insurmountable. Nonetheless, it is very possible with the right tools and persistence.

The following story may help us with this endeavor:

Think of a beautiful quad that separates two buildings lying on opposite corners. The grass is green and well-maintained, and the old trees in the corners provide shade and add to the natural beauty. Imagine that you are exiting one of the buildings and need to make your way to the opposite building for a class. Your obvious choice is to take a direct route and cross the quad. You do this every day and enjoy the nature walk. However, after a span of a few weeks, you begin to realize that upon arriving at the second building, a very obnoxious person is always waiting for you. This person enjoys playing the “who had a worse day” game and likes to win.

After considering your options, you decide to simply walk around the quad instead of across it. This will postpone your arrival at the second building just enough to avoid interactions with the obnoxious person because there will not be time before class begins. Dedicating yourself to this plan, you are nevertheless slightly frustrated the next day when you find that you’re already halfway across the quad by your usual route before you remember the plan. You realize that because of your use of the quad, there is a path that now appears where the grass has been worn away. The habit that you created by taking this trip daily and the worn path make it appear to be the right thing to do. Though you remember to take the new route the next day, in the coming weeks you still quite often find yourself unconsciously taking the worn path across the quad, your feet leading you unwittingly to an extended encounter with the obnoxious person you wish to avoid. Applying more concentration, attention, focus, and persistence to your plan, you start to become more accustomed to walking on the side-walk around the quad and, eventually, the grass begins to appear more uniform again (erasing the worn path).

How the Brain Works

This metaphor is a great example of how our brain works. We have particular thoughts or patterns of thinking that wear a path into our neural networking. The neurons fire faster and with greater efficiency the more often they are triggered. Think about your multiplication tables: you have practiced them so often that they are automated; the neurons associated with this table have built a super freeway in your brain. But what if we aren’t talking about multiplication tables, what if we are talking about negative thoughts such as “You aren’t good enough,” “This is too hard,” etc. Similar to the quad, we have to attempt to stop following this pattern and build a new pathway (or at least decrease the frequency of our use of the worn path). Unfortunately, like grass re-growing, it takes time to accomplish this.

Dedicating concentration, attention, focus, and persistence to changing your thoughts requires a lot of effort. You will find yourself halfway across the quad when you realize you had wanted to change. You will have to continue to work at this change until it starts to feel like the new habitual behavior. It is also important to be aware that the new path you are building has to make sense and be believable to you. Walking around the quad on the sidewalk makes sense. If you start new thought patterns “I am capable of getting better,” “this is hard but I know it is worth it,” this will need to make sense and be believable as well. Telling yourself you are “the best” will not help if you cannot believe it; it would be equivalent to telling yourself you’re going to fly over the quad.

Simple Steps to Rewire Your Brain for Optimization:

  1. Identify thoughts you want to change
    1. Thoughts that are unhelpful to you and your performance
    1. Sometimes they are more apparent when you notice a negative mood
  2. Dedicate time and energy to change these thoughts
  3. Identify alternative thoughts you want to use
    1. Make them believable
  4. Practice and remain persistent to build a new neural network

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