Imagine you’re taking an important exam. When you walk into the exam hall, your mind will be triggered by the things around you: the loud ticking of the clock, people fiddling with their pencils and the papers on the table. Your brain will instantly race to a number of thoughts. These thoughts could be about passing the exam or, more likely, could be worries about not having prepared enough. These thoughts are pathways of linked neurons in your brain, and are result of your previous experiences, and what you’ve been told by others.
Incredibly, the sort of thought associations you have can actually predict how well you’ll perform. In a study at Stanford University, researchers found that "positive attitude toward math uniquely predicted math achievement," - even after the scientists accounted for multiple other cognitive-affective factors1. And this isn’t just true for exams. Everything we experience triggers neural thought patterns, and whether these thought patterns are positive or negative often predict how we experience things. Studies have shown that positive thought associations about sport2, relationships3 and ageing4 can help determine how well we overcome adversity in those areas.
Sadly, research has shown that the majority of our conscious thoughts (and many of our most common thought patterns) are negative5. These negative thought associations actually change the physical make up of our brains. If you imagine the neurons in your brain as a bundle of connected wires, a thought results in messages traveling along certain pathways. The more you think a certain way, the stronger these pathways become. Repeated thought physically alters the brain, creating well worn pathways and habitual ways of thinking. Hebbian theory, introduced by Donald Hebb in 1949, describes in simplistic terms how these pathways are strengthened: "Cells that fire together wire together."
This means that every time you have a thought about an exam, a subject, a sport or any other trigger, you’re strengthening a neural pathway between the trigger and that thought. Left uncontrolled, this can result in damaging habitual thought patterns and negative loops. But there is another way.
"Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think."Dr. Martin Seligman, Founder of Positive Psychology
Excitingly, recent psychological research has shown that changing your patterns of thought can actually change the way that your brain is physically wired. This rewiring is possible because of a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons in the brain to constantly reconfigure and change, adapting to your environment and thought patterns. London taxi drivers, for example, need to remember a vast number of streets and landmarks, and as a result their hippocampus (the main brain structure responsible for memory) is significantly larger than average6. By forcing your mind to think differently and wiring new thoughts to existing triggers, you can take advantage of this neuroplasticity and physically change the way your mind is wired.
You don’t have to actually experience a trigger to change your perceptions towards it. A study conducted at the University of Colorado showed that imagining a trigger lights up similar areas of the brain to actually experiencing it7. Lead author Marianne Reddan said: "If you have a memory that is no longer useful for you or is crippling you, you can use imagination to tap into it, change it and re-consolidate it, updating the way you think about and experience something.”
In order to successfully rewire your mind, the selective exposure to triggers and thoughts is critical. Importantly, you need to visualise the trigger and then focus on a thought8. The process that Rewyre uses to achieve this is VFR (Visualise, Focus, Repeat). Once you select a trigger and thought you want to rewire your mind to, there are three steps to follow:
Over time, the connection between the trigger stimulus and the selected thought will strengthen in the mind, helping you to change your thought patterns and take you a step further to becoming the architect of your own mind.