The Power of Practice and Shaping Your World

photo credit: Nivas Ameya

Do you ever feel stuck in a rut, whether it be physical or emotional and feel a lack of power in making a change?  Have you ever thought about starting an activity or incorporating a new lifestyle mode but think that you cannot because it seems it would take too much at the time?   “…I have to take care of…”  Of course you do.  But let’s step back and look at this from another perspective:  Did you ever decide one day to the next that you were going to become a bodybuilder and then proceed to go into the gym the next day and lift 500 lbs?

If you are smiling and shaking your head imagining the likely consequences of trying to attempt such a feat, you are on the right track…

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Confuscious

When you engage in a specific practice, correlated brain areas increase in size.  Just as you can exercise a muscle to make it bigger and stronger, you can do the same with your brain.  For instance, studies comparing musicians of string instruments with their non-musician counterparts demonstrated that the specific cortical areas associated with movement and sensation of the playing fingers increased in size in the brains of the musicians.  The musicians’ manual dexterity could be accounted for with the strengthening of biomagnetic fields projected from these specific cortical areas as well as the increase in the number of the number of nerve cells controlling and sensing movement.  Similarly, a recent study involving memory of familiar objects versus abstract or new images indicates the significant effect that practice can have on the brain.   Participants tested for their ability to recall degraded images of faces over long periods of time demonstrated high recall accuracy with original images versus new images, even though the new images closely resembled the originals.

How does this relate to the patterns that already exist in your life as well as your perception of yourself, your experiences, and the world around you?  The patterns that already exist in your life are likewise reinforced by associated neural connections and cortical areas created over time.  Your perception is in part formed by these patterns, particularly since the average individual perceives only a small fraction of the millions of stimuli which he experiences each day.  Believing is seeing.

Breaking free of the patterns which restrain you is possible with practice, particularly with some additional tools in your hands:

  1. Releasing expectations.  Often, expectations form our perception of reality leading us to experience our daily life with a pre-set, finely tuned pattern of thought and belief.  Focusing instead on being patient and compassionate with yourself and with others will help you to let of emotional roller coasters which you may be riding and which may be leaving you frozen rather than moving forward and acting upon your goals.
  2. Making goals in terms of positives rather than negatives. If I told you not to think about the two-headed, blue-skinned alien in a spaceship, what would you think about?  If you’re thinking to yourself, “I want to feel less stressed.  I don’t want to feel so tense and depressed,” the chances are you will continue to feel this way.  Instead, try using positive terminology such as, “I would like to feel more relaxed and calm on a consistent basis.”
  3. Becoming more aware.  Practicing awareness exercises such as meditation, yoga, and journaling help you to become more aware of your emotional as well as your physical state, further enhancing your ability to shape your life in a way that is coherent with what brings you true joy.

The trick is: practice.  Even just five minutes a day over time has a very significant effect.  The change that you want to implement from one day to the next does not have to be the equivalent of lifting 500 lbs, such as with your mind during meditation.  If that were the case, every newbie would be levitating the first time he or she sat down to meditate.  As the “Marco Polo” of neuroscience, V.S. Ramachadran, states, “the possible number of permutations and combinations of brain activity exceeds the number of elementary particles in the universe.”  What does this mean?  Infinite possibility.