Dr. Candace Pert discovered the brain’s opiate receptor. She is the author of the book Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel and kind of a hero of mine. In that book she discusses peptides and their receptors and the role of neuropeptides in the immune system, and her theories on emotions and mind/body communication.
Pert’s discovery of the opiate receptor in our brains led to a revolution in neuroscience. It totally blew away how we thought our bodies and brains worked like separate machines. She discovered that our emotions are stored in our body tissues and literally change us physically and can make us ill.
She said, “My research has shown me that when emotions are expressed–which is to say that the biochemicals that are the substrate of emotion are flowing freely–all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.”
When those network pathways in the brain get blocked, we get ill. But if we use intention, we can create new ones. Our brains are full of synapses and every time we make a choice we are reinforcing those pathways.
Habits are formed by doing the thing. If you want to run every morning, do it every morning and then it’s your habit. Now, you might be thinking, duh. But seriously, a person can spend a lot of time thinking about how they want to create a new habit and not ever actually do it.
The same goes for a non-positive habit: stop doing it. They key is to replace it with something else and create a new habit.
Wait, don’t leave! Stay with me! I’ll explain further…
Ok. If the key to great physical and mental health is paved with choices, not willpower, how does that affect our habits? Well, where willpower is gritting our teeth and fighting our inner stream of dialogue and inherent resistance to change, choices are all up to you. You are in charge, and however you view it, it is true. If it’s “hard to change,” it will be hard. If it “comes easy to you,” it will come easy.
The socially accepted amount of time it takes to drop or add a new habit is somewhere between 21-30 days. That’s about how long it takes to create new, thick synapse pathways, or shortcuts, from a repeated action. And every day you move past that reinforces and makes it stronger and stronger until you reach the magic number somewhere between 66 to 90 days, where your body whole-heartedly believes your changes.
Our brains like to put many things on auto, and until a new, healthy synapse connection is in place, it will keep trying to go back to the other shortcut. At least for about 21-30 days. And during that time, we’re going to experience triggers that lead back to the old shortcut automatically and it will take some intention to build the new synapse pathway.
Example: if you’d like to change your habit of coming home from work, turning on the TV, grabbing a few beers and settling in on the couch for the remainder of the day, there’s more to it than just not turning on the TV. Because that might work for a few days, but what about the day you have a really “bad” day and you “deserve” the downtime and mental numbing? That’s the trigger that will pull you back into an old habit. Your old shortcut in your brain is on full flow and sending you all kinds of messages about “how to deal” with the emotions you’re experiencing and the path of least resistance will be where you go.
This is why only trying to take something away doesn’t work. You’ll just simply fall back on the old auto-response.
You need to have a new habit that will replaced the old one, something that gives you some type of pleasure or satisfaction, so you can replace the old programming.
Think of it as building a new foundation for your better, improved 2.0 mental framework. Create a new belief pattern around it. Grow those synapses.
Back to our example. When you get home maybe you change out of your work clothes and immediately drink a glass of water and go out for a walk while repeating the affirmation, “My body loves it when I hydrate with water and go for a walk.” And you’ll be right. And when you start walking and those non-positive thoughts come in and you’re feeling snarly about work, bring your thoughts back to your breathing and nature and how great your body is doing. Resist the urge to dwell in the non-positive and feed that energy. Just keep bringing your thoughts back to the moment and breathing and walking and how great your body is responding to the change.
And do it again next time.
Creating all these changes gives you a moment to think. This creates the opportunity for Action instead of Re-Action.
We’ve really no idea how many of the things we do and say throughout any given day are learned reactions to stimuli that we don’t notice. It takes practice to feel your feelings and figure out if how you’re about to respond is how you really want to respond. Does it serve you? Is it going to be detrimental in some way? Damage relations with someone? Just a reaction from something someone said earlier and has nothing to do with who you’re with now? Based on an uneasy feeling you can’t identify?
You’ve heard the expression, Poop Rolls Downhill. (I’m paraphrasing…) Get in tune with yourself and what you might be passing on to others that doesn’t belong to you, let alone them. Break the chain.
Ask yourself what you’re actually feeling and where it came from. Then decide what to do with it. I’d suggest some deep breathing! Meditation can help. As can forgiveness.
What’s that? Forgiveness?
There is a pervasive misconception that forgiveness is about letting the other person off the hook. We are gifting them with an absolution of some kind, and in that act we are saying it’s ok, that thing that happened, that they did to us or said to us.
No. Forgiveness is about removing the heavy, hard, sad thing you’ve been carrying around in your heart that creates illness. It has nothing to do with the person who wronged you. Your forgiveness, should you choose to tell them about it, doesn’t significantly change their life in any way, unless they believe they deserve to be forgiven, and then it’s really about their own belief system, not you.
Perhaps you know someone who asked you for forgiveness and even though you gave it to them, they didn’t really feel any better afterwards because they can’t believe they deserve it? They feel they are broken on some fundamental level and simply undeserving of being forgiven. Maybe they bring it up every time you see them and just can’t let it go. Or perhaps you’re the one that asked someone if they would forgive you and you didn’t feel any better even when they said yes, and on occasion you bring it up to yourself and have quite a pity party about your unworthiness.
Look. Forgiveness is the (not always) simple act of releasing an old belief and creating a new one. We already saw how to do that with creating habits and this is done the same way.
“He hurt/abused me. He deserves to die a thousand, fiery deaths.” While maybe true, stop carrying it and holding it up as “reasons why.” Stop falling back on it when something goes wrong. Let it go. Stop reinforcing old synapses of anger, sadness and fear. Replace it with new, healthy stuff. Gift yourself that freedom.
Forgiveness is letting go of the idea that you will ever get a second chance at the past, that you could go back and change anything, or that it’s your job to “make them pay.” It’s not allowing another person to continue overshadowing your life now and taking away from your future. It’s saying Yes! to getting mentally, emotional and physically well. It’s a choice.
Work on yourself. Get well. That’s what is really in your power. That’s the truth.
“I deserve everything good life has to offer.” “I can have a healthy, loving relationship with the person I choose to live my life with.” “There are good people in this world.” “I’m lovable and loving.”
If you keep being stuck despite your best efforts, do some polarity checks and get your energy running the right way and then try some self-care. And keep trying because every step forward counts.
Write Something Good
Write a note to yourself and forgive yourself for all the things you’ve done in the past that you wish you could take back. No need to itemize. This is not a long, drawn out accounting of all past sins. No. This is a simple, “I forgive you for all the mistakes you’ve made during your life. I love you.” Now put that note up somewhere you can see it every day.