Recognizing negative thoughts, habits, or other unhelpful patterns is the first step to changing them. When we do this we are making actual changes inside the brain.
Read on to see how our horses helped to illustrate this concept. As a client worked on understanding the process of changing neuropathways she was holding the lead of a horse named Classic. Without realizing what was happening, the client created a solid path in the arena sand with her feet as Classic slowly, gently led her forward in front of Carrie, Classic’s foal. Our equine specialist pointed out what had happened in the environment as we were talking about the metaphor of a cow trail being like a neuropathway. Classic gave us another metaphor, literally right under our noses.
It usually takes a horse rolling in the sand or a person really focusing on it to flatten it out so well! This is how equine therapy happens so often. The horses provide physical reminders outside of ourselves of what is going on inside of us.
Cows walking down the same path over and over eventually create a trail or even a rut in the ground. A neuropathway in the brain works much the same way. Our thoughts follow a path automatically because our brain chemicals have created a literal path through the neurons in our brain. It’s familiar to us, so we automatically go there, good or bad, helpful or not.
The great news is that we can learn to stop ourselves from using familiar, but unhelpful pathways. Similarly, if you stop cows from walking on a specific trail, the grass will grow back over the dirt, and that trail will eventually disappear. We can teach our thoughts the same thing. We can teach them to find a new trail, which will lead to new behaviors, and happier lives for ourselves.
- We first have to recognize that the negative thinking patterns (with correlating neuropathways in the brain) exist and that they are unhelpful.
- Then we consciously choose a different way to think (like walking a different path in the grass).
- We may need to give ourselves a reminder to STOP and change our path.
- Sometimes we might have to do some breathing exercises to stop ourselves from engaging in negative self talk (a very common unhealthy thinking pattern).
- Now we need to choose a replacement thinking pattern just like choosing to walk a different path in the grass.
- When we keep reminding ourselves to stay off of the old, unhelpful patterns and move to the new, helpful patterns, we create actual pathways in the brain (neuropathways) that will become the new “cow trails” our thoughts can then choose instead of the old, unhelpful ones.
- We will have to do this over and over, but it will get easier and we will get better at recognizing other unhelpful thoughts and thinking patterns and then changing them to helpful ones as well.
Congratulations! Now you know how to change your brain. Thank you Classic and Carrie.