You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks! Unless … (April 2011)

by Enrique (Henry) Saldana

Yes, we've all heard that old saying. It is a common expression, conveying the message that as we get older, or the longer we remain in a particular job or field, we tend to get set in our ways, whether those ways are for good or ill. However, while this seems to hold up as a generalization for human beings, the message is not exactly true.

With the advancement of science with regards to the brain and how it functions, we have come to the conclusion that the old way of thinking about the "static" brain, that it "is what it is," from what we know today is that the brain has been found to have the ability to actually change itself physically. This ability to change itself is called "Neuroplasticity."

Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., in his book The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force states that "Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of neurons to forge new connections, to blaze new paths through the cortex, even to assume new roles. In short, neuroplasticity means rewiring of the brain."

The brain is, by far, the most complex and mysterious organ in the human body. Composed of over 100 billion cells called neurons (sensory neuron and motor neurons also known as the brain's "gray matter" and the less-known "white matter" consisting of about another 100 billion glial cells that support the healthy functioning of neurons), this amazing structure is the center from which all of our skills of higher reasoning originate—creativity, learning, imagination, planning and, perhaps most notable of all, our sense of identity. But how exactly does the brain work—and is it separate from what we might call the mind? These questions are still hotly debated in scientific, philosophic, religious and cultural circles the world over, and the answers to them may well never be fully understood. Yet with the advent of modern neuroscience and psychology, much has come to be understood about the human brain.

The study of brain functions has been greatly augmented in recent years by the development of high-tech imaging techniques that allow scientists to observe the living brain in action. These imaging and network technologies, along with a host of carefully controlled experiments and correlative studies, have taught us in large part how learning and problem-solving techniques are played out in the brain. Therefore, we can describe with a good deal of confidence how the brain organizes its basic thinking tasks, such as planning and perception, and how the conscious brain applies both learned and intrinsic patterns of thinking to specific situations. All this is made possible by a well-functioning human memory.

Motivational speakers have been flirting with the idea, for decades, that positive reinforcement or Positive Mental Attitude (Napoleon Hill) can create a new habit or way of viewing the world around us so as to see opportunities instead of challenges. "We become what we think about most of the time."

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), considered by many the Father of Positive Thinking, said that the Power of Thought is a power we must develop as it is essential for happiness and success. Yet, even knowing this, very few of us really pay attention to our thoughts on a regular basis. More often than not, we let our minds run wild without giving much consideration to the outcome we are creating with our thoughts.

Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer is another book on this subject. Is it then possible to master our thoughts? Can we learn to think correctly? The answer is YES, WE CAN. Positive reinforcement definitely has a superior potential for positive results, as opposed to negative stimuli. Can the brain can be rewired?

Yes, it can! A lot has been written about the promising research of neuroplasticity in the brain in the last few years, which is the brain's ability to reshape neural pathways even if they've been ingrained for decades. With physical therapy, new neural pathways can be forged after strokes damage areas of the brain to help patients re-learn lost abilities such as walking and speaking. And this same concept can also be applied to habitual negative thinkers, who can now retrain their brains to think and respond more positively to any type of stimuli.

Here are 5 steps to get your rewiring underway:
1. Carry a small pad and write down every negative thought you have. Anytime you have a negative thought, say to yourself, "No! Stop!" or "Cancel!" At the beginning you'll be amazed at how many you have each day.
2. Replace negative thoughts with new positive ones. Write down the new positive thought after the negative one.
3. Look for patterns. Review your notes and categorize your negative thoughts. Are you more negative in a certain area of your life vs. others such as relationships, career, money, self-esteem, etc.? Don't worry—you can retrain your brain!
4. Create positive affirmations to override these patterns. Repeat the affirmation to yourself numerous times. Make sure you use the present tense when you come up with your affirmations.
5. If you must spend time with negative thinkers, don't try to change them. Just listen politely, but do not accept what they say. Mentally tell yourself that you choose to reject this type of thinking. When you stop responding to other people's negativity and just remain quiet but respectful, they eventually start to hear the hollowness of their own words and change—at least around you anyway.

Good Luck! I know you can do it. And, yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks!!! So if you are struggling to get the results you want, you may want to reprogram your mind for success.

Contact us for further info on how to rewire your brain for success at: ACT for Success: Accelerated Conditioned Transformation for Success