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Change your thoughts, change your life: using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Pause. What are you thinking of right now? Too many thoughts to pick just one? A large, sticky negative thought keep intruding? Is there a cascade of thoughts reminding you of things to do, to finish, to prepare for? 

Our brains are powerful machines. We use them to solve problems, create, innovate, plan, understand and be human. But who controls your machine? Take your computer as an example. An amazing tool, it can allow you to learn how to install a bathtub, access any recipe, create a movie, talk face-to-face with someone across the world. Now imagine that your computer was constantly jumping to a new site, processing so fast you could hear its continual whirr day and night, blaring volume one second then silent the next, racing through screens faster than you could read them. At this point it would cease to be a useful tool and be an incredible annoyance, even a hindrance to you. You want a computer that goes where you want, at a pace you want, that turns off when you choose. A brain is no different.

In our modern world we rely on many machines. Part of owning a machine is the general upkeep and maintenance. We take our cars in for routine oil change and maintenance (or at least when they start making an unpleasant noise or smell), we update our computer and phone software, we even clean the lint out of our dryer. But what do we do for our most important machine that we need every minute of the day?

The maintenance of our brain is as clear-cut as a car, but most of us are not taught how to perform these tasks.

Just as the performance of our car can be indicated by the gas mileage, smooth driving, and a quiet motor, the performance of our brain can be indicated by the quality, clarity, and directability of our thoughts. There are two major tool kits we can use to create this quality of thought. One is mindfulness techniques, which I will focus on in an upcoming post. The other is Cognitive Skill Building. Picture a courtyard with multiple pathways laid out. Then it begins to snow. As the snow falls and becomes deeper, only the paths which are traveled repeatedly remain. Deeper and deeper the snow grows, until the few paths that are traveled are deep rivets in two feet of snow. To leave one of the beaten paths now is difficult. But imagine that someone wants to take a different path. They lift their leg high and stomp down into the snow. Slowly, pushing the snow with their legs as they forge a new path, they make their way. Then another person follows, working slight less hard to beat down the path of snow. As more and more travellers walk this new path, the traveling becomes easy, until it is the obvious one in the courtyard. If all the travellers have switched to this new path, the old ones start to become buried under the new snow.

Such are the paths of the brain. As we think, neural pathways are made and strengthened. The frequent neural pathways become automatic. The more ingrained these habits of thought are, the more automatic and difficult to change. But they can be changed. The initial new thoughts are challenging, feel slow and hard. But they get easier. With practice and frequent use, they become the new norm. The way that we get there by using tools such as thought stopping, identification of negative or irrational thoughts and the systematic replacement of these thoughts. These create the new path, difficult to trod initially, but becoming increasingly easy and natural. With these new pathways forged, you gain control over the functioning of your brain.

Once you are in the driver's seat, your brain then becomes the tool with which to accomplish your desires. A finely tuned instrument, it can efficiently complete its tasks, then return to stillness.

*We are all doing our best. With empathy, education and effort we can make our best better*

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