This past week alone, I have been asked by 3 different people..... IF and or HOW my research on the brain relates to addiction. When I have something occur multiple times within a short span, I always feel like it is the Universe speaking to me. This topic hits very close to home with me personally, and I would dare to say that almost everyone I know has at least 1 friend or family member who is affected by addiction.
Photo by Kimberlea Bass.... celebration of "Letting Go"
So.... I started with what I have learned about neuronal patterns and Brain LOOPS, and began digging further into scientific studies on how these loops are related to addictions. Addictions work in the brain in much the same manner whether it is drugs, pornography, eating, gambling, shopping, sex, or alcohol. They are all habitual patterns running circuitry in the brain which create both chemical and electrical signals. These brain signals or (synapses) as they are referred to by neuroscience, create connections AND any connection repeated over time builds a pathway in your mind that forms a brain HABIT. Some of these habits, as with drugs like heroine, create such a strong chemical signal in the brain that they block off the parts of the brain that are needed to make rational decisions and use one's best judgment. These signals in the brain alter the chemical makeup which creates an addiction.
Think of your BRAIN CONNECTIONS like a road through a pasture.
Your brain has approximately 100 BILLION neurons.... yes BILLION
and it is making connections with EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT you have.
So, the thoughts that are repeated, particularly those of addiction, create pathways
(like a road) in your brain. Once that pathway is created and used several times,
the brain automatically uses it rather than looking for a new one.
Repeated THOUGHTS create repeated PATHWAYS!
This is incredibly important for people with addictions, even in cases of less harmful addictions like complaining, habitual anger, or even procrastination.
The INSTANT your brain starts its LOOP whether it's...
( I just NEED a little drink to take the edge off, or I just NEED to watch one more porn video so I won't cheat on my wife, or even I just NEED one more pair of shoes
and then I won't buy any more)...
from that point forward, your brain goes into AUTO-drive
releasing the chemical/electrical synaptic signals it already knows
so it can complete its LOOP without you having to do another thing.
The brain works on a basis of efficiency
and it's following previously connected patterns any time they are available.
This is why habits are so hard to break!
After being asked about addictions so many times recently...
I began my own "gut-check" into habitual destructive behaviors.
Hence my week long journey inward and ......
MY confessions as a SHOPaholic.
Clothes are my Kryptonite
I know many people out there who feel as though.... "shopping isn't that bad, it doesn't really hurt anyone, you can't die from it.... therefore, it's NOT a real addiction."
I can tell you, being a child with one side of my family
filled with alcohol and drug addictions....
THAT addictive patterns created in the brain
begin the same,
the lies told to justify behaviors
are the same,
and the endorphin releases in the brain
are the same.
yes... some addictions are also altering body chemicals and bodily functions, which make it even harder to change, but the
cycle in which the LOOP begins is the same.
Repeated THOUGHTS create repeated PATHWAYS,
and those pathways are producing electrical/chemical signals in your brain that are influencing every single atom in your body.
Because you are thinking and feeling the same way during your "trigger" situations,
you keep creating THE SAME electro/chemical signals....
which is why you keep having the same habits, and the same type of life.
This is a KEY reason why people who have just come out of recovery are told NOT to continue relationships with the people who originally "trigger" their situations.
If people put themselves in the same situation, their brain will quickly move itself
into the SAME PATTERN LOOP which will release
the same electrical/chemical signals of their addiction.
So.... if you are in recovery or just want
a DIFFERENT LIFE.... you must 1st
catch your "TRIGGER" thought, so you can then
change your thoughts, which can
change your pathways, which can
change your loops, which can
change your patterns, which can
change your habits, which can
CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
Awareness is the KEY.... catch yourself as you are slipping into a habitual pattern.
Even something as small as continual complaining... ask yourself
1. WHY do I do that?
2.What happened right before
I started this behavior?
3.Why does this feel good
(don't lie to yourself and say it doesn't)
people DO NOT repeat habits
unless there's a payoff of some kind.
Ask yourself if you'd let someone punch you in the face....
if NOT, then you realize, it's because the pain wouldn't be worth it....
Now ask yourself if you would let someone punch you in the face
if they said you'd receive a check for $1,000,000 after they punched you.
Many would have to stop and think about that one...... REASON being......
it offers a pay off of some sort.
People who complain, people who have anger issues, people who have extreme eating habits (EVEN if they hate them) there is ALWAYS a pay off...... Maybe it's because this is the only time you get attention, maybe it feels good in the moment, maybe you've decided it relieves stress, maybe you've even told yourself you could act differently
if ALL those people who make you mad would behave better.....
I'm here to tell you
if the REST OF THE WORLD needs counseling so you can act right..... then you have a destructive brain loop set on REPEAT!
Over the last 30 years of my life... shopping was always my "GO-TO"
When I was sad I shopped,
When I was mad I shopped,
When I was so excited I couldn't stand it I shopped,
When I was depressed I shopped.....
and I am certain I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars along the way.
Over the last 2 years, while working on this degree, I have really put my own thoughts and actions under a mental microscope. In fact, most of my life, I believed that I thought the way I thought and didn't have any control over it... "this is just who I am!" Well now that I have seen an actual brain THINKING on an EEG, and viewed countless images on fMRI scans.... I can tell you I understand more clearly than ever that our "thoughts" - both the good and the bad, are creating our lives. Yes, we have genetics, yes we have life experiences that alter us, and I can tell you I have had plenty, but the stories we run in our brains about those events are what alter our lives.
Learning to use GRATITUDE in the face of a "trigger" moment
has forever altered the Staci I once was and
helped create the Staci I am still working to become.
My awareness level for negativity is on high alert at all times,
and each time I catch myself falling prey to an old BRAIN LOOP
I created..... I say the word STOP (yes, sometimes even out-loud)
and shock my looping system long enough for me to alter my thoughts. Even a slight change can help create a change in the neural patterns which can later form a whole new loop.
So.. this week I have decided it was time for a total SPRING CLEANING of the old Staci to fully embrace where the new one is headed. I took over 30 years of clothes, shoes, purses and jewelry out of my closet and tried on every single one. I had an HONEST visit with myself as to who I wanted to become and realized I couldn't completely move forward while still holding on to old addictions. Something about having allllllllllllllll those clothes in my closet gave me a safety net. It was my comfort zone, and even though I do not have the CrAzY shopping habits I used to..... it left me with a feeling of security in a coping mechanism that I know very well.
I have removed 485 items from my life
and feel a tremendous sense of relief knowing I have given myself
permission to "let go" of an old pattern in order to create something new.
YES... I still walk into a store and my heart races, my mind imagines how cute those boots would look with my favorite jeans. I have even justified in my mind all sorts of reasons why "I deserve" that item...... I've worked hard... It's just 1 little thing, It's only $60..... but then I say STOP and replace the feeling with one of GRATITUDE...
I am grateful to have the legs that can walk into this store
without the aid of a wheel chair or walker.
I am grateful for the eyes that are able to see
those awesome boots that someone else will treasure,
and I am so grateful for the knowledge I have gained these last 2 years
because I know " MY THOUGHTS ARE CHANGING MY LIFE"
so I am going to make darn sure the new STACI is controlling them.
Many blessings, and much love for all those whose lives have been altered by addiction. I too have lost loved ones and know 1st hand the destruction it can bring.
Start today by catching your "triggers" and teaching yourself and especially the children in your life, to change their LOOPS while they are young so that those
destructive patterns do not follow them into their adulthood.
Staci is a one-of-a-kind mix of JOY and Neuroscience who is teaching people all over the world to BUILD a BETTER BRAIN by using Gratitude to create a BRIGHTER future. She has a Master's Degree in Educational NEUROSCIENCE and 25 years of teaching experience where she developed a reputation for being able to uncover potential in others like no one else could. Let her teach you how to live a HAPPIER Life by using the neuroscience of GRATITUDE to rewire your brain and build a better future!