Your brain plays favorites.
I realized this later in the game than I would’ve liked. As with compounding interest, this information would’ve done me a ton of good had I come across it years ago. But I didn’t.
I had no reason to suspect my thoughts weren’t playing on a level playing field. I’m a compassionate person with a penchant for equal rights and a slight obsession toward self-improvement. I thought I had my bases covered! But I hadn’t realized that thoughts and “reality” were such moving and biased targets. Thanks to the stealthy ways of my brains, they shaped my experiences without me even noticing.
Let me break down 3 popular and stealthy ways our brains show favorites. These 3 areas areas are particularly helpful to know when working to transform your anxiety, but they are also a boon to overcoming everything ranging from lack of confidence to negative self talk.
Availability- Your brain favors the first thought that pops into your mind. This can be when answering questions, thinking of ideas, or even the first thought that pops into your mind when you wake up in the morning. And then it looks for information to back it up. Your brain looks for hits, not misses. Meaning, once you have that first available thought, you will see things that agree with and support you while overlooking the things that disagree or challenge you. This really hinders those with anxiety because we unfortunately often have worried and fearful thoughts come to mind first.
Association- Your brain favors the connections and associations it has made in the past. Prizing efficiency, your brain defaults to the links it already knows. Because your brain favors them so strongly, you often end up keeping the old associations and patterns without questioning them. With anxiety it is often these super strong associations that mess you up in certain situations and events, perpetuating your anxiety.
Action- Your brain favors action. This means it is informed by what you do, and what you do makes a strong impression. This is a big one with anxiety because when you actively avoid whatever you are anxious about, it reinforces to your brain that it is sending the right messages. The thing you are avoiding is indeed something to be feared and best avoided.
But wait, there’s more! These 3 areas are also malleable. They can be molded by your positive and consistent influences. You can manually go in and start inserting the thoughts you want, the associations you like more and the actions you enjoy so that they become your brain’s updated go-to, default system. Let me explain how to do this.
- Become aware when your thoughts and associations are negative, anxious or avoidant.
- Manually choose a new thought, association or action. You can even say to yourself something like this, “That was my old thought/association/feeling. It makes sense that I thought that given what I now know about the brain. But, given what I now know about my brain, I choose to replace it with this.” A bit lengthy, I agree, so shorten it up as you please.
- Expect your brain to try to reinforce the old way. I mean we are asking our brain exert more energy, and who wouldn’t give a little pushback on that?
- Stay strong. Continue to manually insert this new thought, association or action. Continue to question your old ones. None of these things are set in stone.
The reason we can upgrade and insert the thoughts, associations and actions with the ones of our choosing is because the old ones created self-fulfilling prophecies without us even knowing. They aren’t more accurate or true. The fact that your brain favored them over the years without you knowing made them into your experience, what you came to be familiar with, and true to you.
With consistent reinforcement and practice you can make new first available thoughts, associations and actions starting now!