by Liberty Stembridge, Health Columnist
Published in Health on 21st June, 2019
Reprogramming your brain sounds like a term for pop psychologists, but it's not just a fad or a made-up phenomenon. The science of reprogramming your brain has been around for a while, but it's only in recent years that we have refined our knowledge and people have been able to implement reprogramming tactics to drastically change their lives. But before we jump in - what is brain reprogramming?
Brain reprogramming comes from the idea that all brains have a quality called "neuroplasticity". For a long time, it was believed that brains couldn't change, and that once you left childhood, you were who you were and you were stuck like that, and the only things that might be able to change how you act or feel are medications. We now know that this isn't true - in fact it's the opposite of true.
Our brains are always learning, changing and adapting to new situations, and this ability to change shape, develop in some areas or shrink in others, to build new pathways or gain new abilities is called neuroplasticity. When we're very young, our brains plasticity is very high, because we're constantly learning and changing our ideas about how the world works.
As we enter into adulthood however, that neuroplasticity lessens a bit as we gain more rigid ideas and become "set in our ways" a little bit more. Nevertheless, that plasticity remains, and so we do still always have the ability to change our brains and more importantly - our thought patterns.
For many people, this is the key part of brain reprogramming. The ability to change your thought patterns to become more positive and start changing your life for the better is intriguing, but most importantly, it's possible for pretty much anyone to do.
Whether you're struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, loneliness, depression or negative thought patterns, you can improve your life by changing how your brain works - here are just some of the ways you can do that.
Visualisation is a powerful tool to start working towards and manifesting the life that you want by helping to rewire your brain and reprogram your thoughts.
The clues in the name - visualisation is, very simply, vividly imagining what you want to create or manifest into your life. The clearer and more emotional your visualisation, the more powerful it is supposed to be.
Some people like to focus on what they want in life, such as a relationship or a house, whilst others prefer to visualize how they want to think and feel throughout their days.
What's most important however, is that you're not just picturing what you want, but trying to feel it too. For example, you could picture yourself walking confidently into a job interview, and feeling a surge of power and independence as you do.
Visualisation works very well in conjunction with other tools such as affirmations and meditation, to help your brain create new thought patterns.
If you're struggling to focus when visualising, or don't know where to start, try making a vision board. Essentially it is a collection of pictures and phrases that inspire you and generate feelings of positivity and excitement.
Take a look at your vision board every morning and think about each item on their and why it's there, how you'll feel once you've achieved it.
Don't stress about how it's going to happen, or when, just know that this is what you're working towards, and you'll find a way.
Meditation is one of the most common and powerful tools you can harness to change your brain and create a better life. It can be utilised in many ways, to alleviate mental illness, create change in your life, improve physical illness or indeed, to reprogram the brain.
If you don't already know, meditation is a method of calming and quieting the mind to draw attention away from the constant stream of thoughts that we experience, and be present in the moment. Although it sounds very simple, it can actually be very difficult, especially in times when we're particularly stressed out or angry.
Meditation is definitely a practice, and something that you will improve at over time, and once you start feeling the effects of meditation, you can start using it in different ways throughout your life to benefit you.
Many people meditate before they visualise, and then work their visualisations and affirmations into their meditation practice, so that they have a calm, blank canvas to visualise on, without anxious thoughts interrupting.
The best way to get started with meditation is to try guided meditation, either through a free service like youtube, or with an app like headspace, that offers a bit more education and structure.
So far, we've only really talked about the mental things you can do to reprogram your brain. However, your brain is an organ within your body, and benefits just as much as the rest of you from healthy eating and exercise.
In particular, movement has been shown to have a substantial effect on the brain and how it works, even going so far as to help you become more positive and reducing anxiety.
As such, exercise, in conjunction with some of the more mental exercises such as visualisation and meditation, can be a very powerful tool to reprogram your brain.
Many people find that when they are struggling to meditate, feeling very anxious or can't concentrate, going for a run or a swim can really help them to feel grounded and in control again, and may even alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety by releasing endorphins.
"An affirmation opens a door. It is the beginning point on the path to change." - Louise. L. Hay.
Affirmations have been around for a long time, whether in the form of prayer, daily ritual, or more recently have become popular again through the success of various self help books and "the law of attraction".
Essentially an affirmation is a phrase you repeat to yourself, preferably several times a day. It should embody something you want to believe about yourself or the world, or something you want to happen to you.
Many people use affirmations to challenge their own limiting beliefs, or negative thought patterns, in order to create a better, healthier mindset.
For example, someone struggling with a lack of self-esteem and body insecurities may look themselves in the mirror every day and say "I love my body, my body is beautiful."
Although at first, affirmations can feel very weird and even quite embarrassing to say out loud to yourself - there is scientific evidence that they work.
Our words can create our realities, and even though saying an affirmation may not feel powerful in the moment, this constant repetition of words to ourselves helps to change and reprogram your brain, until eventually you believe what you are saying.
Knowing where to start with affirmations can be tough, especially if you have a lot of things you want to change in your life. Start small, maybe focusing on your financial situation, relationship or self-esteem.
Human behaviour specialist Dr John Demartini came up with a method to help his clients change their perspectives on the world and therefore change the way their brains work. In his method, often referred to as "thought pivoting", clients are asked to look at a situation they are struggling with and try to find the good that could be coming out of it.
Practicing this regularly, according to Demartini, can actually change the structure of your amygdala and hypothalamus.
As you practice, you will find it easier and easier to look for the good in a challenging scenario, as your brain is slowly reprogrammed to see the positive rather than the negative.