What’s the secret to a stronger mind and increased happiness? While there’s no magic trick to mental strength, did you know that just like our bodies, we can train our minds to be stronger through practice?
In this article, I’m going to explain how positive neuroplasticity training works and give you three tips to start using it in your daily life. In this way, you can start training your mind to work as your friend rather than your foe. Learn how a little bit of intentional practice can create a stronger mind, elevate your happiness and unlock your potential.
There’s a well-known quote attributed to the Buddha:
“Whatever one frequently ponders, that becomes the inclination of the mind.”
These days, the findings in neuroscience back this up. There’s another common saying in neuroscience that aligns closely to the Buddha’s quote. That is:
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
This refers to the fact that neural pathways are formed and get stronger, the more you repeat a habit or behaviour.
Essentially, what you practice you eventually become
What seems to be the case is this:
The more you practice compassion, the more compassionate you become.
The more you practice mindfulness, the more mindful you become.
The more you practice being non-reactive, the more non-reactive you become.
So if we want to become mentally stronger, we need to practice and practice these skills until they become our default mode. Mental strength then becomes an effortless way of being.
When we practice anything long enough it eventually becomes like second nature. For instance, with a sport such as tennis, or playing an instrument like the piano. In reinforcing this learning through repetition, we create deep neural pathways in the brain so that over time, doing that thing requires less mental effort and energy.
Eventually, you can just play tennis, or belt out a tune on the piano without much thought about it at all. It becomes effortless. Most of us have experienced this effect while driving a car. We don’t have to think about it much anymore. It becomes automatic.
The same effect occurs with our mental and emotional patterns. For instance, if you dwell on angry thoughts a lot, you gradually become a more angry person. Eventually you will probably react to even the slightest annoyance with rage. If you let yourself dwell continuously on worries, you can gradually become more and more anxious. On the flipside, someone who constantly focuses on gratitude can hardwire feelings of wholeness and joy.
Every time we think, do or say anything it sends a little bit of energy down the path of the mind.
Positive neuroplasticity can hardwire mental strength
The term neuroplasticity refers to the fact that we can train our minds and transform our neural pathways. We can train our minds to change our tendency to dwell on worries. We can change our habit of becoming angry or reactive. And we can cultivate a more happy, confident, resilient mind.
It’s worth noting that this concept relates to one of the reasons Buddha said hating another being was like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies. You’re filling your own body and mind with these neural pathways, these hormones and neural pathways of stress and hate. The more you do it. the more it will set in and become a habit in you. Protecting your own neural pathways is one of the reasons you want to forgive.
Weeding out suffering
Your mind is a little like a garden, and you can cultivate it to be happier, healthier, and stronger by planting seeds of happiness and pulling weeds of suffering. We can use our attention and awareness to nurture the seeds we want to grow and we can choose to stop giving our attention and nurturing to the weeds we want to let go of in our minds and in our lives.
With intentional effort we can stop tending to the habits that aren’t serving us and focus our energies and attention on those that do. By letting go of habits like rumination, worry, pessimism, stress, hostility, resentment, greed and restraining certain impulses and habits, we stop sending energy down the pathways of the mind, so they get weaker and they eventually get totally pruned when no longer used.
Here’s one of the key takeaways about neuroplasticity that is important to us all.
We are always training our minds even if we don’t realise it, because we are repeating and reinforcing certain patterns. We are either training our minds to be stronger, or we are training our minds in the direction of stress, struggle, and suffering.
So the question to ask yourself is – what are you currently practising? If you’re not feeling good about what you’re practising then start making small moves toward positive change.
Building positive pathways
We become mentally strong by practising mental strength. With every single practice we build positive pathways in the mind that eventually move from being a state to a trait, and we become more and more of the best version of ourselves.
So, how can we keep cultivating the good and strength in our mind like this in daily life? For most of the qualities of mind we want to develop, we can make a lot of headway by simply practising them, in small ways, over and over. Remember, that which you focus on repeatedly will become the mind’s inclination. Here are three ways you can practice this is daily life:
1.Unhook from unhelpful thoughts
Notice what mental commentary is going on throughout the day. Are the thoughts unhelpful, drumming up hate, fear, anxiety or low moods? Practice unhooking from them and shifting your focus to the thoughts, feelings and states of being you want to grow. The best way to unhook from your thoughts is through the practice of mindfulness. This will help you let go of unhelpful thoughts and connect you to your calm centre and inner strength.
2. Shift your focus
Another thing you can do is change what you’re focusing on. For instance:
- If you find yourself focusing on how crap your life is, shift to thinking about the good in your life
- When you’re focused on hate towards someone else, bring in compassion for the other person
- If you’re focused on worry, shift to focusing on what you’re grateful for
Every time you change your focus like this, you will train your mind to be stronger, kinder and happier.
You prune the unhelpful stuff and grow the good. Now this is not about pretending bad stuff isn’t happening. I’m not encouraging you to put rose-coloured lenses on or ignore hard things and only think about the positive. Not at all. This is about noticing when we are getting into repetitive, unhelpful mental dialogue that is disempowering us, draining us or limiting our potential. Then finding a more empowering helpful way through it.
3. Remember your values
If you’re experiencing something difficult in your life, practice focusing on your values. The qualities that matter to you deep in your heart will empower and nourish you as you move through that challenging experience.
For example, focus on self-compassion, courage, kindness, gratitude, patience and love. Practice them and you will come out the other side stronger and wiser than you were before. Often we start to get stuck in repeating patterns of anxiety, overwhelm, negativity, or hopelessness in hard times. By connecting with your values instead, you’ll be hardwiring in strength, wisdom and confidence, right in the middle of it all.
An invitation to experiment
So, I invite you to experiment and play with this today and see how it goes, how it makes you feel and how it affects your quality of life. Remember that with every single practice of growing seeds and pulling weeds, you’re building positive pathways in the mind that eventually move from being a state to a trait. Allowing you to become more and more mentally strong, unlock your potential and ultimately be the best version of yourself.
If you’d like to dive deeper into becoming mentally strong, check out my 8 week transformational mental strength training program Headstrong.
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