We first heard the statement, “TED* changes your brain” from a friend who is a clinical psychologist. Donna’s background is in mental health nursing so the statement immediately caught her attention.
Learning how your brain works is useful because scientists can now map what happens in your brain when you sense danger, fear or anxiety. In the TED* work, we call the reactive roles we play when our brain senses danger, the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™, which is made up of the Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer roles.
An important brain principle states that “neurons that fire together wire together.” What that means is that if you repeatedly react to a situation with DDT behaviors, you will feed the more reactive neurons and reinforce their wiring system.
When you interpret someone’s behavior as hurtful, this pain activates the “super highway” of old and defensive neurons and you relive previous painful experiences.
Once your way of relating in the world takes hold (usually established in early childhood), the neurons that have fired and grown together reinforce your life story. If you have taken on a fear-based DDT role, your neurons will clump together and be extra sensitive and on-guard for threats, both real and imagined.
The great news is the reverse is also true. Neurons that reinforce the more resourceful TED* roles of Creator, Challenger and Coach can also wire together. As you learn to focus on what you really want and choose your response to life’s situations, TED* literally rewires and changes your brain!
If you are aware of your body sensations in the moment, you can learn to distinguish ineffective reactive patterns and emotions. By becoming aware, you can then choose more effective and empowering ways of responding and grow new brain circuits that will increase the probability of sustaining new and more resourceful behaviors.
Here are a few simple exercises that will increase your ability to “catch and correct” reactive DDT thinking and behavior. In doing so, the brain will “prune” neurons associated with old reactive patterns and grow new TED* neurons.
- Pause and Breathe for a few seconds—By pausing and breathing deeply, the relaxation response allows all of the brain, not just the old wiring, to become more fully engaged. This is the neuroscience behind the old adage “count to ten.”
- Label an Emotion—By labeling an emotion, the brain is required to “think” about the emotion, which calms the brain and increases self-awareness. It may sound like: “I am noticing I am feeling defensive.”
- Name Five Red Objects—An easy way to calm reactive triggers is to look around the environment and name five red things. The job of distinguishing colors (any color will do) calms the brain so you can choose more wisely.
As you practice these exercises, you will begin to grow new and more resilient neuro-pathways in a matter of weeks. It is in these moments, equipped with a healthier nervous system, that the innate ability to be innovative and creative will be more accessible. That’s why we say, “TED* changes the brain!”