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Retraining your neural pathways (and what that actually means)

March 5, 2019

What are neural pathways?

Our nervous system consists of neurons (nerve cells) that transmit nerve signals or messages to and from the brain. The path which this information travels along is called a neural pathway.

Our neural pathways are developed from childhood. As a baby, we learn to smile through our parents or caregivers smiling at us. We learn not to touch a hot pan from being burnt in the past. They help keep us safe and secure.

Our neural pathways aren’t just responsible for our physical responses but our emotional ones too. We develop habits through them: both positive and negative and they determine our responses to situations because of experiences in the past.

How do we retrain our neural pathways?

The brain is often described as a muscle and although biologically it’s not, it can be trained in a similar sort of way through repetition. This is in the same way as going to the gym or undertaking regular exercise.

So how exactly do you start?

The best place to start is to identify the patterns you want to change. This does take an element of self awareness and understanding patterns and behaviours you would like to create.

The next is to spend a decent amount of time practising the change you want to make. The perceived wisdom is it takes 66 days for a new habit to take effect and for your neural pathways to redevelop.

In the same way that it takes time for your body to change as a result of exercise, retraining neural pathways also doesn’t happen overnight. However, with time, you will see changes.

I spent my 20s and some of my 30s feeling awkward and shy. I would clam up when I met new people but then laugh and joke with my friends. People thought I was standoffish and over the years I realised I was giving the wrong impression. I made a conscious decision to be friendly to new people. The more I did it, the easier it became. It’s now second nature to me.

Many of us go through life feeling like our confidence is holding us back and our previous life experiences have affected our future. Retraining our neural pathways gives us the opportunity to reset the balance. Yes, it takes practice but one that is potentially life-changing.

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