Happiness and Neuroplasticity

January 29, 2019
brain, heart, emotional intelligence,

ZEN TIP TUESDAY #2

I’m excited to present to you the 2nd contribution to Zen Tip Tuesday which comes from a fellow Brisbanite – Lee Lee.  Lee writes on a topic of great interest to me and I hope that you’ll find it interesting too.  Neuroplasticity first became known to me when I took part in Mindful in May in May 2018.  Specifically I learnt of it from an interview with Michael Merzenich (the pioneer of neuroplasticity) on Day 10, Week 2.  You can learn more about Lee and how to connect with him at his bio at the end of this post.  Thank you Lee for sharing your story with us!

Before I go, if you haven’t already read my post announcing the #ZTT link-up which starts next Tuesday on 5 February you can read all about it here!  Come join the party – I’d love to see you there!


brain, heart, emotional intelligence,

Doing visualisations to promote wellbeing is nothing new, but with a few little tweaks they can become something quite extraordinary. They are easy to do and can be done anywhere you like. All you need is some time and motivation.

Early in 2018 I found myself in a bit of a slump. A long period of less than desirable health lead me to disconnect with friends and family and had me stuck in a hole that I didn’t know how to climb out of. I was suffering with anxiety and what I would call a constant negative chatter going on in my head. I didn’t feel ready to jump on the treadmill of doctors and psychologists and so I started looking around for something I could do for myself.

By sheer chance one day I wound up watching a YouTube video about ‘Neuroplasticity’. It had nothing to do with me (or so I thought) but I found it all fascinating.

“Every time we think in a certain way, practice a particular task, or feel a specific emotion, we strengthen this road. It becomes easier for our brains to travel this pathway. Say we think about something differently, learn a new task or choose a different emotion; we start carving out a new road. If we keep travelling that road our brains begin to use this pathway more”.

I heard the women on the video recite those words and a light bulb lit up in my head. She was saying that by repeatedly feeling a specific emotion we strengthen the associated pathway in the brain. So by repeatedly feeling happy, happiness would become the default emotion. You can watch that YouTube video here:

This concept of neuroplasticity made so much sense to me that I instinctively knew I had found something of great value. I just needed to work out how to implement it. I knew it needed to be done in a structured and disciplined manner because the key to success would be repetition.

I began to compile a list of ways to induce a state of happiness – watching sitcoms on TV – listening to music – going on holiday – being with friends. Good ideas but they were all a little difficult, you can’t just meet up with friends everyday or be on holiday everyday, and TV and music require you to be in a specific place and time etc. But what occurred to me was that thinking about previous holidays and times I had spent with friends also made me feel really happy.

I felt truly amazing!

I set about making my plan of action. I wrote a list of positive memories. Things I had done, places I had been and people I had loved. I committed to spend an hour every day thinking about these memories. I would find a quiet space, sit and close my eyes and just start remembering. It was extraordinary! After the first hour I felt really revitalized and I was eager for more. Over the following week I kept up the practice and each time I felt truly amazing afterwards.

It didn’t take long for me to get through the list of memories I had written, and so I started using the memories several times over. To my surprise this was even better. Each time I revisited a memory I remembered more detail and pretty soon I actually felt like I was right there in the moment again. I had all the fine detail, the way the light reflected off the buttons on a friend’s shirt, the sound of the waves breaking on the shoreline, the taste of that ice-cream sunday, or the smell of the onions cooking on the BBQ. With all those details also came the genuine feelings of love and happiness.

The more I worked at it the more memories that came. I started to remember many beautiful things from my childhood that had long been forgotten, and all in great detail. Old pathways in my brain started to open up and brought a huge flood of incredible memories.

Within weeks my anxiety and negative thoughts were a thing of the past. It was easy to continue my practice because it made me feel so good. It was a pleasure to do and it became the favourite part of my day.

I continued to experiment and expand upon what I was doing by incorporating imagined scenarios. I imagined myself visiting new places and being with new people, or even meeting up with important people from my past again. This worked just as well and I now do half an hour of memories and half an hour of imagined scenarios.

It’s 8 months since I started my practice and I can honestly say I feel more love and happiness than I have ever experienced in my life. The consistency and repetition is the key. I practice every day without fail. It’s the best thing I have ever done for myself and I would encourage others to give it a go.


Lee Lee – Brisbane, Australia.

A middle-aged man who has lived life like it’s a roller coaster. Now enjoying quiet times and finding joy in the smallest of things. Music and art are ongoing passions. Excited by the uncertainty of the future.

Connect with Lee:  WEBSITE  |  FACEBOOK  |  INSTAGRAM


 

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14 Comments

  • Reply Leanne | crestingthehill January 29, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    Lee this is such an interesting concept. My husband is a family counsellor and he is a very strong believer in cognitive behaviour therapy which works in a similar way. What we focus our thoughts on certainly determines how we view our world – the more positives we can dwell on, the more positive our view of the world will be – and you are the perfect example of that! I wish the woman I work with could get onboard with something similar – her thoughts are always focused on her imagined ills and how hard done by she is – such a waste of time and such a sad way to live life. Good on you for choosing to take a different path and the rewards you’ve reaped.

    • Reply Min January 29, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      You’re so right Leanne, in saying that what Lee talks of is similar to cognitive behaviour therapy. I found the 365 Grateful Project I did in 2012/13 also had a similar effect on me. Focus’ing on things that I was grateful for every day for 365 days strengthened the positivity I felt and the feel good endorphins started to come back. What started out being a hard thing to do eventually became habit and easy. How we think is so important to our well-being!

  • Reply jan January 29, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Hi Lee, I had not heard of this before, but I do know that remembering my holidays does give me pleasure. It is one of the reasons I began a travel blog. I find when writing a post on a destination I am drawn back to the experiences I had there. I read my old diaries and research more about the destination on line and for a week or more I will be drawn back there repeatedly every day. I find I remember far more about our holidays than my husband does because I relive them again and again. It seems I have happened upon neuroplasticity without knowing it. Thanks for sharing this story. When I’m down I will immediately start thinking about past travel and I also like your tip of making a list of happy events to dwell on in the future.

    • Reply Min January 29, 2019 at 2:44 pm

      What an interesting point Jan! By writing your blog posts on favourite travel destinations, memories and feelings from those holidays come back to you and bring joy and so basically you’re practicing Neuroplasticity by writing your blog! You’re creating positive pathways in your brain! I actually find it a very comforting thought that we have control over our brains. Just like our bodies we just need to exercise it. 🙂

  • Reply Joanne Tracey January 29, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    Hi Lee, I love the idea of this. It’s like a quote I came across last week that said something like celebrate and praise your life – and you’ll have a life with more to celebrate and praise…something like that. I particularly like how you said that the more times that you reviewed the memory, the more you remembered about it.

    • Reply Min January 29, 2019 at 2:45 pm

      I like that point too Jo – about the more times you review a favourite memory, the more you remember about it. I’d like to try this with some memories of childhood beach holidays. Such fabulously happy memories from those days!

  • Reply Deborah January 29, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    Hi Lee

    I like the sound of this. I’m reminded of the habit some have of writing out a list of things they’re grateful for each day and putting them in a jar and when they’re feeling low pulling one out and randomly getting a happy memory and something for which they’re grateful.

    I certainly need to work on my negativity and be more grateful!

    Deb

    • Reply Min January 29, 2019 at 2:48 pm

      I really like that jar idea Deb! There’s so many different ways I think to practice Neuroplasticity but it does require commitment as Lee says. In hindsight I now think that the 365 Grateful Project I did all those years ago was aiding Neuroplasticity for myself. I committed to finding something I was grateful for every day for 365 days and then photographing it and writing about it. It was hard at first but I perservered until it became habit and it did make a profound difference to my mindset! 🙂

  • Reply Kathy Marris January 30, 2019 at 8:20 am

    After I moved house in 2018 I felt somewhat isolated and unhappy, so I know how this feels. Sometimes it seems that negative self-talk takes over and we can’t get those thoughts out of our heads. I like to think of something positive every single day to be thankful for – like the sunshine or a chat to a stranger that I might encounter on my early morning walk. This tends to help me, so I understand how this Neuroplasticity could be beneficial. As a travel blogger I do like the idea of travelling to make me happy. It always lifts my spirits!

    • Reply Min February 1, 2019 at 6:52 am

      I get a lot of that negative self talk and am constantly exploring ways to understand it, stop it, and replace it with kinder self thoughts. Practicing gratitude (or as you said – looking for things to be thankful for) really does work in getting the mind into a more positive headspace and train of thought. On the subject of travel making you happy – as Jan R said in her comment – even by recalling happy travel experiences and writing about them on your blog you’re basically practicing neuroplasticity! 🙂

  • Reply Janet Camilleri aka Middle Aged Mama January 30, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    I work with a lot of psychologists and am fascinated by things like neuroplasticity, the human brain is an amazing thing!

    • Reply Min February 1, 2019 at 6:52 am

      I find things like neuroplasticity fascinating too Janet. The human brain sure IS amazing! 🙂

  • Reply Johanna Castro February 1, 2019 at 10:12 am

    The more we learn about mental health and the way our brains work the better. I really believe that our brains are subject to as many ills and challenges as our bodies, but in a different way, and science has been relatively slow coming to the table with solutions. When we moved to Australia in 2009 and since then we’ve moved again twice within WA, I’ve often felt a disconnect – and negative self talk is a strong motivator for shutting the doors and staying glued to the computer. I loved Lee’s story and her way of solving her challenges – I particularly liked the idea of how by “repeatedly feeling a specific emotion we strengthen the associated pathway in the brain.” So true.

    • Reply Min February 5, 2019 at 9:52 am

      I totally agree Jo – life can be hard and it’s not only our bodies that need attention to deal with all life throws at us. I find neuroplasticity fascinating! It’s amazing what our brains are capable of. 🙂 xo

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