OKAY. I’m tentatively going to start posting again. Pretty much my plan is to start this shit from scratch. Everything before Now is, as always, context. Nothing more, nothing less. I’ve changed my mind about a bunch of stuff and discarded much more.
Time to start from scratch, once again.
I’ve had this come up in conversations multiple times lately, and wanted to talk a bit about a pretty simple trick I’ve used to become a more confident, happy person.
Y’all are familiar with the phrase ‘neurons that fire together, wire together. Neurons that fire apart, wire apart’?
For anyone who isn’t- it’s a nice pithy little phrase- coined by Dr Norman Doidge, I think – to describe how neuroplasticity works.
How learning works, in a really broad sense.
The more we do a thing, anything, the better we get at it. The more neurons get allocated to that thing, and the more granularity we become capable of, within that thing.
We get faster at it, more competent.
I like to use the example of learning an instrument – at first, we have to pay conscious attention to each and every step. Figure out where our hands/fingers go, look at the sheet music, interpret each note, and laboriously play each one in turn.
But the more we practice, the more those steps begin to be automated. We go straight from picking the instrument up, to looking at the music, to playing it.
This applies to everything.
It’s absolutely a use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon (for example, when monkeys being studied lost the use of a finger, researchers were able to monitor how the parts of their brains that had previously activated in scans when that finger moved began to instead active when the two remaining, adjacent fingers moved. The dexterity of the remaining fingers increased as the inactive neurons began being allocated to them instead.
Everything is a skill. We have a limited number of neurons in our brains, and limited space with which to use them.
Even things like pain operate in this fashion- that’s how chronic pain works.
The longer we experience pain for, the more efficient our brains get at experiencing it. It becomes quicker to take hold, more intense.
Those feedback effects can become runaway ones- but it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s possible to put the brakes on those kinds of effects, with conscious effort and dedication.
The skill that I see many people inadvertantly developing over time (as I did, not very long ago) is that of insecurity.
It’s not just physical tasks that change the structure of our brain through repetition.
The very words we speak do as well.
This is one of the reasons I’m a bit of stickler about my own personal consistency- I believe that my brain processes what I say as ‘truth’, in a way.
If I say that I am annoying, that I’m stupid, that I’m a terrible person- regardless of what my conscious brain believes, that’s going to become part of the way that I subconsciously interpret the world and my place in it- as well as what I’m capable of.
I think I started with apologies- I would take a moment to think about whether or not I was genuinely remorseful about a thing before I said ‘sorry’- the vast majority of the time, I was saying sorry out of habit, or out of some perceived social norm to do so.
I did my best to cut those out (though I’ve gotten a little complacent about this particular habit of late), while making the apologies I did feel were warranted as heartfelt as possible. Just as much as a training technique for myself as for the other person to hear- when I say a thing out loud, I’m much more likely to remember to not repeat whatever behavior it was that I didn’t like in future encounters.
Even if you do really believe that you are a bad person, you’re this or that- choosing to not say those things out loud(/write them) is, I believe, a necessary first step towards not thinking them so often anymore- then, eventually, to no longer being bound by those beliefs.
For many of us, those neural pathways are pretty deeply reinforced. Self-deprecation and insecurity, as highly developed skills.
It takes time to overwrite that kind of stuff in our brains, and hard work, but it is possible.
It is possible to forge ourselves into being more confident, more socially competent, happier, mentally healthier- for free! With no help from anyone else!
Anyone can do this stuff.
Remember also that people can’t read minds. What they know of us is dictated largely by how we speak to them.
They may think we’re a really cool person, but tell them often enough that we’re actually a shithead- and what reason do they have to not defer to us?
We are, after all, the best authority on ourselves there can possibly be.