Monthly Archives

April 2018

Please notice me!

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Mobile phones are amazing devices – they bring the world to our fingertips. And social media is great for keeping up with what our friends and colleagues are up to. But we’ve all seen situations where the phone has meant lost human interaction; a couple sitting across from each other in a restaurant, barely exchanging a word or a glance as they stare at their phones. A parent ignoring the arm tug from a toddler as their need for attention goes unmet while daddy checks the football scores or mummy scrolls through her Facebook feed.

Attention is a fundamental need for humans. We are social creatures and thrive on being noticed. And the need for attention starts on day one. No other creature on earth is born as helpless as a human baby. An elephant can walk before its first meal, a gazelle can run with the herd the day after it’s born. We’re born “unfinished” for a very good reason. Evolution has meant that humans need to be born at the stage we are, because our heads would be simply too large otherwise. So it’s vital we get the full attention of those who will look after us, or we simply die.

Those early vulnerability circuits are still there when we’re adults. Whenever we feel ignored, stress hormones such as cortisol surge through our system. When we get attention, “happy” chemicals like serotonin flow. This applies to other primates too. Researchers have found that chimpanzees will actually exchange food for the chance to look at photos of the alpha male in their group.

To a certain extent, social media interaction can act as a substitute to direct human interaction. We all feel a little better when our post is “liked” or shared. But there can be a downside. For example, internet trolls do what they do because any kind of attention, even negative, is better than being ignored.

And does an electronic “thumbs up” really fill you with the same sense of joy and wellbeing as a good natter with an old friend? I think we know the answer to that.

Change can be hard…but not impossible

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The human brain is an incredible thing. Billions upon billions of connections are made within it, creating pathways that determine how we react to life. In fact, it has been estimated that the number of neural connections in each brain exceeds the number of atoms in the universe!

Neuroplasticity is the phenomenon whereby connections die off and new ones are made. It is neuroplasticity that allows us to make lasting change so that we deal with life in a much more positive manner.

Easy eh? Let’s get to it…

Except it isn’t so easy. The control centre of our brain, the part that decides how we respond to situations, is known as the amygdala and it is biased towards maintaining the status quo. It tends to encourage repeated behaviour patterns, which explains why we get caught up in unhelpful habits. Creating new pathways in the brain takes a lot of energy – it can be likened to hacking your way through the jungle as opposed to walking a well-worn path. There is a strong evolutionary drive to conserve energy, as our ancestors didn’t know when their next meal might arrive.

But that doesn’t mean change can’t happen. The human brain has evolved beyond being a simple survival machine. We now have the capacity to think and to imagine, and we can decide that we want our lives to be better. Given a little determination, we can use the power of neuroplasticity to rewire our brains and move to a more optimistic, positive mindset. And once we’ve hacked through the jungle, that path becomes easier to follow.

We can start today, by taking one small step in the direction we want to go. And once that first step is taken, the next step can reveal itself.

Make today Day One.

 

Links:

https://www.quora.com/How-many-neural-connections-in-the-human-brain