Our perspective and experience of life is based on the associations we have made. It is such a simple idea yet a profound one. I remember when I was taking my Neurobiology course in graduate school when this idea dawned on me. It literally changed the direction of my life.
When a stimulus enters into neural pathways of the brain, it first implants in the primary cortex then secondary cortex and then after that it is all association cortex. Our brains are neural networks of associations.
Everything is based on associations. To some degree, everything is connected. Things are more connected now then they ever have been. We are in the age of transportation and technological networks. Information and people are just a click and short plane ride away.
I went to a Refresh Leadership conference where Liz Murray spoke. She had a quote that I think is was profound on how as individuals make an impact in the world.
“People say they want to make a difference in the world. You already are making a difference in the world. The question is what difference are you making. Be intentional.”
Have you ever considered what the implications of taking left turns instead of right turns? Consider how the little decisions we make everyday affect how we experience our life.
Associations are fundamental for how we live our lives. Think about the color blue and blue skies. If I had to get into a philosophical conversation about what color the sky was everyday, we would never get anywhere! That is just your perspective man, that the sky is blue! Language was created as a way to communicate with others. Communication is a tool that has allowed us to grow together as a society. Also, associating certain ideas simplifies our neural networks. We can archive certain related ideas in a folder in your mind.
Association are necessary for us to learn and communicate. However, we can make associations that are detrimental to our growth and how we experience life.
In the book, Awakening the Giant Within, he proposes the idea that what we associate pain with we stay away from and what we associate pleasure with we are drawn to do. For instance, if you are trying to lose weight and associate pain with eating a certain way, you will not be successful in the long term because you have associated pain with eating healthy. Pain can be a motivating factor. The mind is a powerful tool.
I thought his ideas on pain and pleasure were very interesting. A concept that I used unknowingly with gratitude. When I was rewiring my neural networks over the past few years, I used gratitude. I read the book The Magic by Rhonda Byrne. It literally changed my life because I was able to change my perspective. I flooded every area of my life with gratitude especially the ones that challenged me. By doing this, I was able to diffuse the pain I had felt. In every situation, you can find positive or negative. It us up to you what you choose to focus on. Both are true.
A few years ago, I had a health crisis that ended me up in the hospital 3 times in two and half months. It seemed like I lost everything I was important to me. I found myself in the most seemingly impossible situation to get myself out of.
The physical, mental and emotional pain became so intense that I had no choice but to address it. I neglected my body for so long, it began to boycott me and my way of life. Either change or begin digging my grave. For the first time in life, I began to value my life. I never realized how important my health was until I no longer had it. Pain had become an intensely strong motivating factor.
One of the fundamental lessons I learned was that of gratitude. My perspective shifted to a more positive one with gratitude. I was able to transform anger and self deprecation into love and understanding. Gratitude began unlocking my brain to allow for positive associations and rewriting the pain experienced as possibilities.
In many scientific experiments, rat models are used with a pain and reward model. Behavior is entrained by causing pain by electric shock. It is natural for us to rewire our brains away from pain. Oh wow! I touch this stove and it is hot. Let me NOT do that again.
One issue is that pain is taken into social situations where it is not apparently so black and white. It is so easy for us to internalize what happens with family, friends, and significant others. We end up taking on other people’s stuff. We are too afraid to be vulnerable.
Key Points: Associations are everything! Be grateful! Choose positive associations! Allow yourself to be vulnerable!