I used to wake up every morning with a very specific, very negative vision of the future. It was a painful picture. I needed to make it stop. I was in Manhattan visiting my friend Terri Cole, who’s a psychotherapist and life coach, when I asked her: “What’s with this fucked up thought pattern?” Well…
You want to hear what she had to say. Here’s PART 1 of the two-part series: Making New Mind Grooves, A Discussion About the Neuropathways That Are Steering Your Life.
If you’d like to read this article all at once, you can download the handy PDF HERE.
Photo by Patryce Bak Photography.
Terri Cole. Psychotherapist. Coach. Inspirational speaker. Jersey Girl. Former talent agent, drinker, carnivore, and smoker. Full-time joker, part-time yogini. Crazy in love with her husband. Stepmom of three. Night owl. Wears her heart on her sleeve. Voice of reason.
This is what it’s like riding in a cab with Terri: Cell phone rings. It’s a girlfriend. She’s having stage fright. Terri talks her off the ledge and on to the podium. Phone rings again. Another girlfriend. Dog died. Terri gives her a primer on grieving. A text comes in: Terri! I just quit my job, couldn’t have done it without you! And so on. Terri’s the girlfriend you call when it all hits the fan.
Here’s the scene: Terri and I are walking arm-in-arm in the East Village in Manhattan. I’m crisis smoking (I only pull out the Marlboros for nervous breakdowns and the occasional roof-top party.) I’m in the midst of one of the toughest times of my life. And I share with Terri that because at this point I’m a nut case, every morning I’m waking up with this very specific, very negative vision of the future in my head. It’s a painful picture. It makes me want to hurl. I need to make it stop.
And as much as I know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that the changes I’m making in my life will lead to tremendous joy, I can’t help but slip into that incessant, negative thought pattern. So I ask Terri, “What’s with that fucked up thought pattern?”
Jump Cut to Present Time
Danielle: So Ter, what’d you tell me walking down East 13th when I was a nut case?
Terri: We need to lay down some new neuropathways for you.
D: Yes, yes you did. And we laid those new neuropathways DOWN. So T’Love, educate us: What’s a neuropathway?
T: Neuropathways are pathways in your brain—thought patterns, automatic thoughts. Neuropathways are also our habits.
It’s how we know how to tie our shoes or drive to work without consciously thinking about it. So whether it’s a more obvious habit or an emotional habit, our brain literally lays down grooves. These repetitive thoughts can be positive or negative.
Negative neuropathways, or thought patterns, form largely in reaction to limiting beliefs that get planted in us at an earlier phase of development, like childhood. Basically, we were trained to believe negative things about ourselves or how life works, and that creates a negative rut in our minds.
D: So let me interpret this for myself. I was in a situation in my life that was consistently disappointing. That repetitive disappointment created a negative neuropathway for me–a bad groove. So when I would envision certain aspects of my future, rather than being on the happy/fulfillment track, I’d slide onto the familiar “disappointed” track. And from that place, I’d envision a disappointing future. Downer.
T: Yep, that’s how it works.
D: So you helped me create a new, much more positive neuropathway, or thought pattern, of possibility. And it was really sanity-saving. Really, I’m so grateful. I still use that method when I have any future-focused negativity come up.
So let’s lay this out for everyone. Tell us what we need to do to create new mind grooves. And can you use a client example, please? Because I’m already feeling a bit exposed — enough about me.
T: You got it. Let me give you an example of switching up negative neuropathways around money issues…
Creating New Mind Grooves
STEP 1: Awareness of the power of your thoughts and a desire to change
First, you have to be conscious enough in your life to realize that you have power over your thoughts. Sometimes you just have to be in enough pain to say, “These thoughts are not bringing me what I want.” And you truly have to want to change.
STEP 2: Deconstruct the thought pattern so that you can move to:
STEP 2 ½: Identify the original injury that caused the thought pattern to take hold
In order to change a default way of thinking, we must get to the original injury. What was the event or circumstance that created a strong enough impression in your mind that it became a belief, or a default thought form? In order to uncover the original injury, we start by scanning the past.
An example: A client, let’s call her Ann, is dealing with issues around money in her current life. So we go back to her early stories about the topic. “How was money handled in your family of origin?” “Who had the power around money?” “Was money used as punishment, or as a reward?”
And then it’s really about uncovering what we call in therapeutic language, “the original injury.”
In Ann’s case, her mother was super dependent on her father to handle the money in the family. I usually have people write in a journal about it. Ann came up with this: “When my mother couldn’t make a decision about purchasing something for me at the store without clearing with my father, that made me feel that she was not powerful. It made me feel like I couldn’t trust her because she didn’t have decision-making power. So as a kid, I knew that my father had the power.”
And there we have the original wound. Because she wanted to be like her mom when she was a little girl, there was a conflict about her becoming masterful around money and her being a woman. So since being good with money would make her not like her mom, and not like a woman, she unconsciously adopted the belief that women aren’t good with money—that became her neuropathway. When we broke it down in that way, Ann could see that that’s just a limiting belief. It isn’t actually true.
STEP 3: See a new way of being
Then we ask questions that pull the situation into the present: “How would it feel to be masterful around money?” And we can start to imagine new possibilities emerging. She could be a woman and emulate the good parts of her mom, and be masterful with money. And this is where the new neuropathway starts to carve itself out.
D: Is the original wounding always from childhood stuff? Because in an, ahem, therapeutic context, I’m so tired of hearing that we never get over what happened to us as kids. Neuropathways get created within our adult experience as well, right?
T: Yes, because we have the power to create new neuropathways at any age. Taking salsa lessons as an adult will inspire your brain to lay down new pathways.
But you are really talking about negative and limiting beliefs, and although we do develop negative neuropathways from adult experiences, those tend to happen more from traumatic events. In my experience, the most deeply held, limiting beliefs—or most injuries that are getting in the way of our authenticity—come from childhood experiences. It usually is something that happened at an earlier phase of development that is not complete, that may be unacknowledged, and is still in your unconscious mind, informing your life.
This is good news because … we know where to look for the source of the problem, right? It’s all condensed in one place.
Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week or download the full version HERE.