January 25, 2023

WTF are neural pathways?

I'm Ash montgomery
Counsellor & Therapy Dog Handler
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Home » Blog » WTF are neural pathways?

Throw around ‘neural pathways’ to sound super smart next time you’re coaching your friend through her latest toxic chaos cycle.

You know how there’s that thing you do all the time that you wanna stop doing and just can’t figure out how to change it? Or the thing you want to be doing that you can’t start?

For example: You keep having ‘breakup sex’ with the same toxic dude who somehow makes you feel guilty while he’s the one treating you like crap.

Or your friend whines to you about the exact same problem all the time and just will not try anything new.

Or you really want to start reading more instead of caving into familiar doom scrolls every night before bed.

Well, here is how you can change literally anything you want to change, and why it’s been so hard in the past.

The Dry Science Stuff: Neural Pathways, Your Own Personal Brain Map

In simple terms, neural pathways are like roads in your brain. Picture a map of roads, all connecting together. Some highways, some random back alleys, some familiar suburban streets.

Brain roads = neural pathways.

So, your brain roads carry information from one part of the brain to the other. Let’s build on this picture: Imagine a city where different streets and highways connect different neighbourhoods and areas. In the same way, neural pathways connect different parts of the brain, allowing us to process and respond to information.

(Information = literally describing any and all brain input. Everything you see, smell, hear, touch, taste, yadda yadda.)

Basically, your brain roads strengthen or weaken over time depending on how much you travel them. For example, let’s say you decide to take up a new skill, like learning how to play piano. When you begin, the neural pathways in your brain that control your fingers flimsy and useless. Just like a brand new road that’s still in early construction.

But as you practice over and over (sorry your mum was right), the connections between the neurons in your brain responsible for controlling your fingers become stronger and more efficient. At this point, the road is well and truly built and ready for cars to speed through.

This is why practice and repetition are important in learning new skills. They help to establish and strengthen neural pathways in the brain. Whichever neural pathways are the strongest will be the ones your brain jumps to first.

What does that mean for real life?

So you might be thinking: “Cool, if I want to actually stop boinking Jeff and not have some kind of breakdown I just need to…switch that activity out for another one so that other neural pathways strengthen and my brain prefers the other activities? Or start banging someone else?”

Look, yeah, kind of.

It’s also worth mentioning that not all neural pathways are created equal. Some pathways are more well-established and efficient than others. This can be influenced by factors such as genetics, environment, and experience. Some pathways can be strengthened and reinforced, while others can be weakened and “pruned” away like little garden weeds.

Consider why a neural pathway might be as strong as it is for you. Let’s play this out using our toxic ex boyfriend Jeff example. Say you’re uncomfortable being alone. Or just really uncomfortable with the idea of cutting someone off — even though you don’t feel good with them.

When was the first time you felt uncomfortable being alone?

What social values have you inherited about people who are alone?

At other points in your life, how has it gone when you spoke up for what you needed? Were you punished, supported, seen, heard?

Your neural pathways have been building for your entire life. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes some time to gently build up more supportive neural pathways.

Summing it all up

So, neural pathways = connections between neurons in the brain that allow information to travel from one part of the brain to another. They connect everything together and are responsible for how we process and respond to input. You can work on building neural pathways that help you so they overtake the shit ones, using the same principles of practice and repetition that you’d need for learning a new instrument or something. Don’t forget that genetics, environment and experience also influence neural pathways.

Practical application

Experiment with building new, better brain roads by being intentional with your thoughts and clear on how you want to think/feel.

Here’s something to try if you want to begin changing negative core beliefs about yourself. Focus on your thoughts (for example: Jeff is the only person who will ever love me) by journalling regularly. Do a brain dump, and then start writing down the thoughts you want to be having instead. (Such as: I’m an absolute catch, and Jeff needs to grow up and learn how to respect people.)

You can also try to adjust how you speak about yourself in conversations with the people around you. Try to neg yourself less, and practice more neutral statements like “I’m working on being able to X Y Z” instead of “I am useless and I’ll never learn.” Might feel fake, but this is truly a time where science says you should fake it til you make it.

Be patient with yourself

If I told you to drive to your house right now, you’d probably have a pretty good idea of how to cruise around your local streets. However, if I threw a dart on a map and told you to drive to a random cafe 30 minutes away, you wouldn’t have it committed to memory. Take the time and patience to go over your new brain roads like they’re a brand new route that will soon become familiar and easy. And one last thing: Be careful about which roads you let become familiar.

If you’d like more help with understanding your thoughts and how they influence your life, we would love to welcome you at Golden Thread Therapy. Read more about us here and click here to check out online bookings.

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