Can we teach our brains to think differently?

Do you find this title a little bit weird? You do?

I need to confess something: The title sounds unusual, but technically it is correct. We do teach our brains to think differently and properly throughout the whole of our lives. We learn how to control impulses and how to motivate ourselves, which basically means we teach the brain how to react.

Emotional lessons can be taught, and they shape our emotional intelligence.

Let me explain everything step by step.

When we learn something from our parents, teachers or peers, we remember it, which is good.

What if we learn something that is not good for us, like a negative way of thinking or an inappropriate reaction to life events? Sooner or later we come to understand that this is not a good way to live, and we decide to change it.

What the therapy or new teaching does is apply a new process for our brain to follow. We teach our brain how to change, control or inhibit our previous learning.

Basically, we use our brain to teach our brain how to think differently!

It took millions of years in human evolution to develop the so- called thinking brain or neocortex.

At the beginning of human evolution, we had just the brainstem, our primitive brain. This “brain” regulated only the basic life functions, like metabolism and breathing.

From the brainstem emerged the emotional brain and, many millions of years later in evolution, the thinking brain.

We have two brains: rational and emotional. We have two minds (rational and emotional), two memory systems (one for rational facts and one for emotional facts), and two kinds of intelligence (rational and emotional).

At best, there is a balance between the emotional and rational minds. If the balance tips, we are more or less in trouble!

Now we know why we sometimes react emotionally rather than rationally: What came first during the evolution of the brain reacts first! First we had emotions, and then we had thinking. The thinking brain grew from the emotional one.

Therefore we need to teach our thinking brain (the neocortex) how to inhibit our amygdala (the part of the limbic system that plays a role in emotional behaviour).

Let’s make it simple: Usually, it’s better to think first, and to feel later. Whenever we need to make a decision, we need to use our thinking brain first, not our emotional brain. This is the ideal way of reacting.

French essayist and moralist Jean de La Bruyèr tells us, “Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel.”

As the title of this article, I ask the question: Can we teach our brains to think differently?

The answer: Yes, we can, because the human brain has plasticity, meaning it is dynamic and continues to be shaped and to develop. Keeping the intellect active helps us to build a brain capable of handling different tasks.

Studies show that people continue to operate at a high level of function throughout their lives only if they literally train their brains.

Older adults can improve their brain function with the correct training. Certain mental exercises can partially offset the expected decline in older adults’ thinking skills. Teaching our brains to operate differently is actually a mental activity that keeps those brains in good shape. The human brain is like any other muscle: we “use it or lose it”.

Keeping our brains healthy requires more than just mental stimulation. Scientists now know more about the brain and the many things we can do to keep it healthy and sharp.

The brain’s cells (neurons) can be shaped, and increase in number when we expose ourselves to new environments.

If we want to keep our brains in good condition, we need to pay attention also to our stress levels. The human brain is very sensitive to chronic stress. Such stress has a negative effect on memory and potentially induces damage to the brain.

Our lifestyles determine our brain health.

There are many simple things we can do on a regular basis to positively affect our brains. Think about it!