Pathways to change – Roundtable 19

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Every action we take creates a related reaction within our brain. Our brains literally change by creating a new neural pathway toward the action we take.

Let’s say we choose to encourage a person or team, and then we act on that choice. We may point out to a group that, “Social media may increase our access into bitter communications that harbor coarseness and cruelty, but human brains can still create kindness and care in ways that encouragement will flourish.” As we show kindness to people, the brain builds new neural paths for more kindness.

Sure, it may mean we have to curb that hate speech, call out bullying or propose tolerance because we face increasing cultures where nastiness routinely trumps common decency. Civility may even appear beyond our grasp at times. But each kind action builds another neural pathway to make the next kind act easier.

We may find ourselves flooded with mean-spirited putdowns from the latest barbs that get leveled against any who disagree on Twitter. It seems to take tone packed with superpowers to successfully resist internet trolls. Ignore sarcasm or choose to disrespect others though, and we help to normalize troll-powered toxins. Just as social media can add venom we can block the very care we all crave.  Ever feel trapped within a culture of outspoken, angry views?

New neural pathways formed with each choice

Good tone boosts brain health

In contrast, consider how encouragement changes our brain’s chemistry. It opens access to learning in most situations, for instance. Even a word of praise, a gesture of cheer or a boost of well-being replenishes our brain’s aha chemical. Called serotonin , this essential fuel aligns human brains for surprising give and take of kindness. We set the stage for outcomes unavailable to those barking or being barked at.

For 26 years I saw and felt personally touched by encouragement from close friend and colleague, Dr. Robyn McMaster. Daily Robyn’s actions proved how civility and compassion still matter, regardless of put-down or attacks that seem to incite fury back in a few. I remember one afternoon where loud, dissonant music blasting through our windows from the next building, distracted our team.

In frustration, I planned to walk over and ask the noisy neighbors to turn down their volume. All Robyn said was, “Is that worth the loss of a good relationship?” It wasn’t, and I spent years collaborating with occupants of that adjacent building as a result of my own civility that followed Robyn’s reminder.

A step in kindness directions pounds a mental path

What could we do this week to build new neural paths to  ensure encouragement reboots our own and others brain chemistry?

First glances show people blessed with close family and  friends seem more distanced from a stored sense of misery that incites others. We now know how fears of lost opportunities tend to store cruel, knee-jerk reactions in our amygdala. We understand more about how our dangerous rerun of distasteful reactions can increase feelings of isolation and run on fear.

Researchers John Cacioppo and others may help  explain why some people shop till their bank accounts drop – but still feel isolated and discouraged even around friends. New studies also show why triggers of blues for some become encouragement boosts for others. We are also learning how personal choices open wider windows into deeply felt encouragement than once recognized. Choose people over things or ideas, for instance, and encouragement tends to awaken faster.

  • Pleasure centers of lonely people light up with images of objects faster than with images of other people.
  • Lonely people tend to increase their sense of alienation by not seeking out interactions with others, as they don’t see these will satisfy.

If you’ve witnessed a Scrooge with loads of money and yet no encouragement from friends – that likely says it best. Not surprisingly, imaging of a lonely, discouraged person’s brain also shows less activity in areas of our brains that understand other’s views or support their needs. No wonder some feel further distanced from social and emotional bonding through acts of kindness.

Loneliness or an absence of encouragement is bad for our health

It takes inner care to extend kindness to others. While still unsure if loneliness comes more from our gene pool or from social experiences,  researchers do agree on toxic outcomes.  Feelings of isolation and discouragement often lead to serious cases of depression, obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems, and many stress related illnesses.

Those who remain alone in life, or who distance themselves from encouragement – tend to die younger and enjoy less quality of life in senior years. Mother Teresa described feelings of being unwanted as “the most terrible poverty.”

If loneliness is bad for our health, and if feelings of isolation are often choices, is it also true that people choose health problems that come from a sense of abandonment?  That answer is less evident in the research and yet will likely be quite clear if we engage intrapersonal intelligence and reflect of how we change and grow mentally through encouragement.

Rewire for daily contentment

With a few mental adjustments, that need not come at personal expense we develop an ability to rewire discouraging emotions  stored in our amygdala. We let go of feelings that isolate and leave us bitter. We fully expect fun and encouragement in our communications with others around us.  How so?

Act on what we’d value in our future.  Research shows how actions literally reshape our brains for more of what we expect.

Smile, regardless of how we may feel, and our brain’s plasticity changes in our favor. The action triggers our brain to create new neuron pathways toward a happier reality.

Give even a small gift of encouragement or support, without conditions, and in spite of personal loss.  In response, our brain raises levels of serotonin chemicals for sustainable well being powered by encouragement.

Mimic the actions of a person we admire for their encouraging spirits, and our brain rewires dendrite brain cells for more of the same admirable spirit in ourselves. Develop a new intelligence at the same time, and our brain rewires itself for further growth in that area.

Laugh, especially at ourselves, and not only will others laugh with us, but our brains will create enzymes for clear thinking, better learning and adventures brimming over with possibilities in spite of turbulent times.

Discover one new insight by converting a rut into a renewed reality we’d like others to see in us. Phone one person we dislike today and invite that person to lunch to find out what’s working well in life. Curiosity and this call moves our brain’s basal ganglia from the rut of loathing into newly created possibilities lived from within our working memory.

Support one person who thinks on the opposing side of our views, for instance, and watch how our concrete defense of that person will leave us mentally able to override our brain’s default for ruts that held encouragement back in past. The action shows us new possibilities where we may have slipped into limiting problems in past.

Can you see how brain based recommendations here carry us beyond discouragement and help us to care more about others? Do a few simple behaviors, and our brain does the rest for us.

Use any one of the above brainpower tools by simply doing a related act and we’ll spark brain cell regeneration for more encouragement and compassion.  Or create a brain power tool of our own and then use it, in spite of troubled times. Scientifically speaking, these tips come from neurogenesis research on how our brains can grow new cells or regenerate old ones in ways that would alter our ability to support others and be encouraged ourselves.

Worth a try to communicate care and support where we may once have shown frustration or disrespect?

This tool is available on my TpT site

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