“Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” Yehuda Berg
Proactive neuroplasticity is expedited by DRNI—the deliberate, repetitive, neural input of information. The most constructive information is calculated and specific to our intention. Are we challenging the core and intermediate negative beliefs that condition our behavior and motivation? Are we focused on a specific challenge? Are we embracing our character strengths and virtues that support recovery and transformation? What is our end goal – the personal milestone we seek to achieve? Context, intention, and content determine the integrity of information and its correlation to the durability and learning efficacy of the neural response.
Context is the circumstances that form the setting for a situation and our relationship to it that generate our automatic negative thought(s). In terms of social anxiety disorder, what specifically about a situation generates our fear of criticism, ridicule, rejection, etc. Understanding the context of a situation is important to effectively challenge our ANTs. Context in the pursuit of a goal and objective are the motivations and impediments to achieving that goal.
Intention: How are we expediting our objective? What is our constructive plan of attack? If our goal is to become better educated, what are we going to study, what sources of information do we utilize? How are we going to challenge misinformation? If we are challenging our ANTs, which character strength do we emphasize, which deficits do we challenge?
Content: What are the actual words that construct our neural information—the statement that addresses the context and intention of our goal? What is the best mode of delivery that will cause the receptor neuron to spark and engage the full range of positive neural responses?
Context: Fear of an upcoming speaking engagement. Intention: Emphasize our assets; challenge our deficits. Content: I am trustworthy; I am regaining my confidence.
Context: My smoking is going to cause cancer. Intention. To stop smoking. Content: I have the discipline; I will stop smoking.
Let’s focus on one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated techniques utilized for the context and intention-driven content of the information at the core of DRNI.
Positive Personal Affirmations (PPAs)
Most of us drastically underestimate the significance and effectiveness of positive personal affirmations because we don’t comprehend or value the science behind them. PPAs are an astoundingly effective means of positive self-modification. PPAs are sensible reflections of our aspirations—brief, subjective statements that challenge our defeatist self-beliefs by emphasizing our character strengths, abilities, and accomplishments. Productive PPAs are rational, reasonable, possible, unconditional, goal-focused, brief, and first-person present time.
Rational: Our objective is to subvert the irrationality of our negative self-beliefs. It is illogical to cause ourselves harm. Irrationality is self-destructive because it subverts the truth.
Reasonable: Of sound judgment; sensible. I will publish my first novel is an unreasonable expectation if we choose to remain illiterate.
Possible: If our goals are impossible, our efforts are counter-productive and futile. I will win a Grammy is not a viable option to the tone-deaf.
Unconditional: Placing limitations on our commitment by using words like maybe, might, and perhaps is our unconscious avoidance of accountability. Saying I might do something essentially means we may or may not do something depending upon our mood, circumstance, ability, and so on. How confident are we when someone says, I might consider paying you for your work?
Goal-focused: If we don’t know our destination, our path will be unfocused and meandering.
First-person, present time: The past is immutable, the future indeterminate. Our actions can only happen in the present.
Brevity: PPAs should be simple, unconditional, forthright statements that are readily memorized. An effective DRNI program recommends verbalizing three consecutive PPA’s, repeated throughout the day. These are modified as we progress in our quest.
Diligently repeating positive personal affirmations accelerates and consolidates learning and unlearning. It increases activity in the self-processing systems of the cortex, which counteracts years of negative neural input. It decreases the fear and anxiety hormones of cortisol and adrenaline while transmitting pleasurable chemicals and hormones that generate the incentive to endure the tedious, repetitive input of information.
The reciprocating energy from repetitive PPAs is abundant due to the amplified neural response. Positive energy in, positive energy multiplied millions of times, positive energy reciprocated in abundance. Each neural input of information can impact millions of neurons as they restructure our neural network to a form conducive to a positive self-image.
Many psychologists recommend delivering PPAs in front of a mirror. Our reflection is a distraction, however, which devalues the integrity of the process. PPAs can be executed while showering, cooking, or walking. Inputting our PPAs before sleep is an excellent option.
Examples of Positive Personal Affirmations:
- I am successful
- I am confident
- I deserve to be loved
- I am powerful
- I am a good person
- I am motivated
- I am unique
- All I need is within me
- I am strong
- I am focused and determined
- I am not defined by my past
- I am in charge of my life
- I have the power to change
- I determine my future
There are multiple psychological approaches to Visualization. Covert Conditioning focuses on eliminating a bad habit by imaginary repetition of the behavior, i.e., smoking, shoplifting. Covert Sensitization and Covert Extinction encourage repeated confrontation of our fears and apprehensions. In Covert Modeling, we choose a positive role model to visually emulate (like what we might incorporate into our Persona).
The most effective PPA is visualized as we verbalize it. When we intone the statement, I am powerful, it is helpful to imagine the situation (context) where this is applicable. PPAs can be silent in situations that prevent verbalization such as the classroom or silent retreat. The distinction between verbalization and visualization is the power of sound. However, each method impacts our neural receptors, initiating the positive chain reaction.
Both PPAs and visualization are supported by the Laws of Learning, which explain what conditions must be present for learning (or unlearning) to occur and how to accelerate and consolidate the process through proactive neuroplasticity.
The brain is in a constant mode of learning; it never stops realigning to new information. It forms a million new connections for each input. Information includes experience, muscle movement, a decision, a memory, emotion, reaction, noise, tactile impressions, a twitch. With each input, connections strengthen and weaken, neurons atrophy/others are born, learning replaces unlearning, energy dissipates and expands, chemicals and hormones are transmitted, functions shift from one region to another. Proactively stimulating our brain with deliberate, repetitive neural information via PPAs and Affirmative Visualization accelerates and consolidates learning (and unlearning), producing a correlated change in thought, behavior, and perspective. These changes become habitual and spontaneous over time.
Our brain creates the same neural restructuring when we visualize doing something or when we verbalize it; the same regions of the brain are stimulated. Just as our neural network doesn’t distinguish between rational and toxic information, it also doesn’t distinguish whether we are physically experiencing something or imagining it.
The thalamus is the small structure within the brain located just above the brain stem between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain and has extensive nerve connections to both. All information passes through the thalamus as it is relayed to other parts of the brain. By visualizing an idea or performance repeatedly for an extended period, we increase activity in the thalamus and our brain begins to respond as though the idea was a real object or actual happening.
The thalamus makes no distinction between inner and outer realities. It does not distinguish whether we are imagining something or experiencing it. Thus, any idea, if contemplated long enough, will take on a semblance of reality. If we visualize a possible solution to a problem, the problem is more easily resolved because it specifically activates cognitive circuits involved with working memory.
We can visualize mitigating our anxiety and performing better, or we can envision being a more empathetic person. In either case, our neural repatterning will help us achieve those goals. The more we visualize with a clear intent the more focused we become and the higher the probability of achieving our goal. Our dopaminergic-reward system is activated, decreasing the anxiety and fear-provoking hormones that relax us, and providing those that make learning more accessible. In addition, when we visualize, our brain generates alpha waves which, neuroscientists have discovered, also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness (comprehension and acceptance)
Accepting scientific validity to the enormous benefits of PPAs makes it easier to endure the tedious, calculated regimen of deliberate, repetitive, neural information. The process is simple in theory but challenging due to the commitment and endurance required for the long-term process. We do not put on tennis shorts and advance to Wimbledon without decades of practice with racket and balls; philharmonics cater to pianists who have spent some time at the keyboard. We can possess all the required tools, but they need to come out of the shed. Not only is DRNI repetitious and tedious, but it also fails to deliver immediate tangible results, causing us to readily concede defeat and abandon hope in this era of instant gratification. PPAs are one of the most effective means of replacing or overcoming the years of negative self-beliefs expressed in our ANTs. They dramatically accelerate and consolidate learning (and unlearning). If the science isn’t clear or we doubt the evidence, we must resolve these concerns; proactive neuroplasticity is the foundation of our recovery and our pursuit of goals and objectives.
Recommendation. Create three viable PPAs following the guidelines (rational, reasonable, possible, unconditional, goal-focused, brief, and first-person present time). Repeat them out loud five times, a minimum of three times daily (or any variation that achieves the same results). This process consumes less than three minutes of our time; the positive impact on our neural network is immeasurable. As we deliver each PPA, we visualize sparking the fuse that propels the fireworks shell into the sky where it explodes in a dazzling and powerful array of colors and lights, enhanced by the whistles, bangs, and staccato pops of joy and celebration. Thus our neural receptor sparks the electrical transmission through its neural pathway, engaging millions upon millions of participating neurons in a positive cellular chain reaction.
The Power of the Word
We all carry an abundance of justifiable reasons for our anxiety to commit, among them physiological aversion, negative self-image, and the prejudice of our peers. We express this reticence in our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). There are categories of words that impede recovery and the pursuit of goals and objectives. Pressure, conditional, and negative absolute words are unconscious evidence of our resistance to commitment and accountability.
Pressure words like should and would equivocate our commitment. I should start my diet essentially means, maybe I will and maybe I won’t. It allows us to change our minds, procrastinate, and fail. It unbinds us to action. We are either on a diet or will be on a diet. The pressure comes from the guilt of having done nothing (I should’ve done that).
I shouldn’t drink at the office party. I will not drink at the office party.
Negative Absolute Words. The adverse impact of won’t, can’t, never, etc. is obvious. Our objective in recovery or self-development is to replace our ingrained ANTs with positive, affirming, productive ones. Hate is an extremely destructive sentiment. (I hate doing the dishes.) Do we really, or do we just dislike doing the dishes? Hate is an emotion; dislike is a feeling. Feelings quickly dissipate while emotions metastasize within us.
I won’t enjoy that lecture. I will learn from that lecture. (Which one offers the probability we will attend?)
Conditional words such as possibly, maybe, might add ambiguity to our commitment. We either did it, are doing it, or will do it. Qualifying or conditional words are pre-justifications for our failures. (I might have won if only … )
I might begin my diet tomorrow. I will start my diet tomorrow.
- should, should’ve
- would, would’ve
- have to, got to
- ought to
- every time
- could, might
These words are self-fulfilling prophecies of our inaction. It is important to become mindful of our dependency on these self-destructive words and eliminate them from our thoughts and vocabulary.
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