Over the past 15 years or so, neuroscientists have made so many discoveries about the human brain that we are now beginning even to understand connections to the human mind. Yes, there is a tremendous difference between studying the brain and studying the mind. But there is some magic happening (metaphorically, of course) when what we are learning about the physical brain is intersecting with what we have always inferred about the mind.
It seems as though we have gone to great lengths to learn about the cosmos, computer sciences, or our own oceans, but we are only just now beginning to make similar breakthroughs about things like our own habits, why we choose them and how we can go about relinquishing them to other, more effective ones.
For one example of what I’m talking about, take this recent study published in the Journal of American Psychology. Researchers took a group of 70 people split between people diagnosed with OCD and others in a control group (without diagnosed OCD). Both groups were hooked up to electrodes that would administer shocks and then trained on a new habit they had to use in order to avoid being shocked. Both groups were given brain scans via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they performed their new “shock-avoidance habit.”
Later on, both groups were brought back to receive an additional fMRI scan while being asked to perform their shock-avoidance habit. But there was one important difference: no electrodes were used and no shocks were threatened. And what the scans revealed was that the OCD individuals continued to have regions of the brain associated with habit learning and performance light up (the caudate nucleus) much more than the non-OCD individuals. What this research is hinting at is that we can identify specific parts of the brain involved in habit formation — and even parts of the brain involved in habits we no longer need or want relative to our survival.
I don’t know about you, but that’s amazing to me! We can uncover incredible things about the brain; we can develop technology that allows us to view living neural circuitry in action and get a glimpse of what goes into changing a habit.
But here’s the main point I’d like to make today: none of this knowledge matters unless you maintain your curiosity. Having the research impact your life and become meaningful to you is, and will always be, up to you.
So if you are even remotely interested in how your brain works (or, in some cases, doesn’t), then the best way to harness these advances in science to help you is to allow your curiosity to grow – specifically your curiosity about you and what’s going on internally. Here are some sample questions:
What am I feeling right now?
Why does that person’s comments about me have such a huge impact on me?
Why do I get so upset when I drive?
Why do I find so much joy around the holidays?
These are simple examples of questions you can be asking yourself in a non-judgmental, merely curious way. You may even be shocked at some of the answers!
When you allow yourself to grow in curiosity there are two huge benefits:
You can take advantage of all this amazing science and discoveries about the brain,
You simultaneously get to have your brain work at a higher level just by asking honest questions about yourself. There are dynamic things happening in our brains all the time; being non-judgmentally curious allows us to begin to understand and even shape some of these dynamics.
We invite you to join the growing movement of people who are allowing themselves to be expanded in their thinking and their ability to rewire as a result.