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A Walk in the Woods

Modern neuro-science (science that works on the brain) tells us that our brains are made up of millions of electrical ‘pathways’ and our individual thoughts pass down individual pathways (a bit over-simplistic but you’ll get the idea).

We all have in the brain stem what is called a Reticular Activating System (RAS). Reticular simply mean a fine network or membrane. This network triggers responses. This serves as the filter for what enters your conscious and unconscious mind. Consider the following examples:

Example 1:  You decide to buy the latest silver Ford. Suddenly it seems that wherever you go, you see them.  Why? Your RAS is activated.

Example 2:  You are in a room full of people standing around and chatting. Then, someone on the other side of the room says your name and that one word cuts through the noise and your ears immediately perk up. Again, that's your RAS at work.

When functioning normally, the RAS provides the neural connections that are needed for the processing and learning of information, and the ability to pay attention to the correct task. Now these neural connections are like pathways. Consider the following.

Now I want you to think of some woods that you know perhaps and imagine going for a walk through an area that hasn’t been walked before. The first time you walk it, it’s hard going and your feet make footprints in the grass or leaves. Right, now imagine that you’re going for a walk in these woods every day, so the next day you follow the direction you went on the first time out and you can just about see your prints from yesterday. By the fourth day you have well and truly broken down the grass etc. and a path is becoming clear. By day ten you can follow an easily marked path which has been trodden away. Now imagine your brain is those woods.
When something painful happens to us and we are told we are stupid, ugly etc., the path is well imprinted quickly. Pain helps establish the path (or way of thinking). We reinforce the path by going back over the incident in our mind, again and again. No wonder after a while it is well established in our beliefs about ourselves.

Now to create new paths we have to purposefully ‘walk’ them and reinforce them by a variety of methods.  However, before we go any further, let’s do away with any silly ideas. You ‘walking’ a pathway every day that says “I can walk through walls” is just not going to happen (despite what the Matrix films say.) No, you are going to walk paths that are the truth, and part of the walking process involves you coming to see why they are true.

So, to go back to our starting place of standing in front of the mirror every morning and telling yourself “You’re OK, you can do it!” is only part of the story, but an important part.

We will come back to this later on, but remember, you can change the pathways or ways you think.

The Truth about the Lies

We noted reasons why we might feel bad about ourselves and we considered things that were said to us: you’re stupid, you’re no good, you’re ugly.  I have to tell you as a life coach that not one of those things is measurable. Stop and think about them with me for a moment, will you.

You’re stupid? I have to tell you that the odds are that that is not true. The number of people who are genuinely stupid is very small (and you wouldn’t be here online reading this if you were!). We all do stupid things in our lives at some time of other – yes, all of us – but that doesn’t overall mean that generally we are stupid. Stupid is normally one person’s biased assessment of another under a particular set of circumstances.

I used to be a college lecturer once. In one of my classes I once had a young man who was negative about everything and clearly showed that he thought he was useless. I watched him over the space of a term and then took him aside for a quiet word. “At the risk of being misunderstood, I want you to know I am asking this nicely,” I said. “Has anyone ever told you that you are stupid?”  He looked me in the eye and obviously saw something that gave him courage as he answered, “Yes, my parents have always told me I am stupid.” “Right,” I responded, “I want you to know that I have watched you over this past term and although you lack confidence, I believe what you have been told is a lie. I have watched you and a number of times I have marvelled at your insight or your ability to do various things. No way are you stupid! Throughout the rest of this year I want you to purposefully say to yourself, ‘I am not stupid’ and I want you to work as if you believe that.”  He was a changed young man. Why had he appeared stupid? Because he had believed a lie!

Think about the “you’re no good” comment. No good at what?  OK you may not be much good at some things but very few of us are good at everything. Let me give you another college illustration. As a course tutor I had close dealings with a lot of students and some drove me mad. These were the ones who arrived late, never put any effort in, didn’t do homework and, yes truthfully, seemed to be ‘no good’. But here’s what I learned over the years.  Those kids who were just not gelling with life at eighteen, went out and got jobs, grew up a bit, changed, worked hard in the narrow area of work that most of us work in, and because it was a narrow area of work, they became good in it. Becoming good at what they did led to success and success meant promotion and a good number of those ones I would have written off years back, ended up driving bigger cars than I’ll ever drive!  So you haven’t found your slot in which to shine yet?  OK we can work on that in days to come.

You’re ugly?  Well the good news is that not everyone thinks that. The ‘cheer-leader’ is in a minority and for many of them beauty status does them no favours. Ignore them, they’ve got enough admirers and I’m not one of them. I’ve got a simple and memorable illustration for you. The name of Richard Kiel may mean nothing to you until I tell you that he played the 7 feet 2 inches tall, steel toothed “Jaws” in James Bond films who, in the film ‘Moonraker’ falls in love with a tiny blond woman with pigtails and glasses. It is probably THE most unlikely pairing you can find – except I know of a number of couples who would equally fit that category! Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. So you and I may not fit to hulk or honey mould that the media exalt in, but they’ve got just as many problems as we’ve got!  So they appear popular? Only in a very limited grouping. The fish tank we live in has plenty of room for all sorts of fish!

It’s time to reject these untruthful and unhelpful stereotypes. You’re not stupid! You may not be super wonderful at everything but look closer and you’ll see why (more in days to come!).  You’re not ‘no good’. Find your thing, play to it, go for it and blossom and succeed. And you’re not ugly; it’s just that you’re not one of the smooth and sexy characters who grow up to go through five divorces and tons of unhappiness.
I need to rejoice in who I am.
Homework: Stand in front of the mirror every morning and tell yourself “You’re OK, you can do it!”