While it has long been understood and accepted that the brain’s wiring changes when we learn a new skill or language, research has shown that shifts also occur when we merely think about engaging in a new activity. Scientists refer to this capacity as neuroplasticity. What it implies is that, by changing our thoughts, we can change our brain’s wiring.
Imagine the possibilities.
But knowing you have the power is one thing. Believing it and experiencing the change that can occur requires commitment and resolve. Consider the words of the good witch Glinda in the film, The Wizard of Oz, when a homesick Dorothy was shocked to hear her say, “You have always had the power to go back to Kansas.” But when the Scarecrow asked why she hadn’t shared this news sooner, Glinda replied, “Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.”
It’s a bit like learning to ride a bicycle.
As young children, we are assured that the process will end in success. Still, it seems impossible when we first hoist ourselves on the seat, steady our feet on the pedals, then wobble our way down the road supported by training wheels. The more we do it, the less often the training wheels touch the road. A process we don’t notice since they’re at the back of the bike and our attention is focused forward. When they stop touching down all together, we’re told it’s time to remove them, but we don’t quite believe it. That is, until we experience the first untethered ride, one that feels nothing short of miraculous.
We can apply a similar approach to shifting our thoughts. And this extends to the thoughts we have about ourselves.
But how? One strategy that I use often is a Word Bath exercise. Here’s how it works: Think of a word that describes a very uncomfortable or negative feeling, then think of another word that describes the extreme opposite of that feeling. Write the positive word on a piece of paper or in a device.
Here are a few examples:
Negative word – Extreme opposite
Demeaned – Empowered
Ignored – Celebrated
Timid – Fearless
Small – Enormous
Repeat the task until you have generated a list of about 15 positive words. Then, for a week or two, recite the list out loud to yourself a couple of times a day, slowly and deliberately so you can process and internalize each one. Be sure to speak the words aloud so you are lighting up both the left and right hemispheres of the brain (the left for language and the right for feeling associated with the language).
The exercise represents a powerful tool in reframing a view of self that has been fueled by negative language. By bathing yourself in positive words, you will fire and strengthen new neural pathways and take full advantage of your brain’s capacity to change.
The choice, and the power, is yours.