In The Quantum Mind, I discuss the Four Pillars of Well-Being. I explain that if we look at all spiritual traditions they have four things in common: some kind of fasting ritual or eating restriction; some form of physical exercise (like yoga, dancing, or walking meditation); some practice involving mental hygiene (prayer, chanting, meditation); and last but not least some form of reading, memorizing or studying scripture. We can translate these into secular terms to be: nutrition; exercise; mental hygiene; and education.
Today, I want to talk to you quickly about the neurological implications of what learning something new, i.e. education, really means for us in terms of personal transformation and why it is such a crucial catalyst for lasting change.
No matter what the behavior we’re trying to modify is, picking the right education is essential food for our brain. I go into greater detail about this in Module 3 of The Quantum Mind, but for now let me just give you a concrete example of someone who has always had difficulty with overeating. No matter what they do, they just can’t seem to get this impulse under control. It has wreaked havoc on their self-esteem, maybe even their relationships.
But with a slight shift in mindset, by developing curiosity about the “object” of their attention, by seeking to understand all the different components and mechanisms that come together to bring their “problem” into being, they’re start to shift their relationship to the behavior. Not just that, they’re literally changing the brain regions and networks that activate in relation to the behavior. For example, how might knowing about this latest bit of research on the neurology of impulsive overeating help someone shift the narrative they have from “problem” to “object of their curiosity” instead? Putting new ideas in our heads helps us challenge the dominant narrative we’ve always had about a particular problem, and it’s this dominant narrative that makes the problem a problem. Shifting our perspective from self-deprecation (“I can’t believe I can’t control myself,” or “I guess it’s always been this way,”) to understanding what neurological mechanisms are involved in the undesirable behavior is one key strategy for beginning to unwire habitual behavior.
If I can get curious about the problem, I would be shifting brain activity from the seat of my negative emotions (that’s in the lymbic system), on to the pre-frontal cortex, the part that says “hmmmm, how does this work and what can I do about it?” This gives me agency, it says “I’m working on this, I’m learning about it, I’m figuring out what to do.” We move from a fixed mindset, to a mindset that says things can be different in the future. And so this is where picking the right food for thought is critical in our endeavor to better ourselves.
Dr. Samar Habib is a writer, researcher and scholar. She lives in California.
Originally published at medium.com