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  • Sabrina Trobak

Building New Brain Pathways

When you repeatedly do something over and over, it creates pathways in your brain. The more you practise the behaviour, the more significant the pathway becomes. It doesn’t matter whether these behavior or thoughts are healthy or unhealthy, the more you practice them the stronger the brain pathway becomes.

Like an actual pathway, the pathways in your brain take a lot of work to build it. Before an actual pathway is created, the area is just a forest, trees, unlevel ground, branches, and shrubs all over. You must go in with an axe, chainsaw, shovel, and machete and slowly chop down the trees and shrubs and then level the ground. This takes a lot of work, energy, and conscious effort. It isn’t easy. But as you continue to work on the pathway, it gets easier and easier to build because you become stronger and are more aware of what you need to do to build the pathway. As you build it, the pathway itself gets easier and easier to use. What started as a vast forest area eventually becomes a walking path, then a dirt trail develops, then a dirt road, then an asphalt road, and then eventually a freeway. Building a road takes a lot of time and effort, this process of creating a new thought pathway in your brain also takes a lot of effort and can take years.

Let’s look at walking as an example: When you were first learning how to walk, it took lots of practice—you had to first learn to sit up, balance, stand, move with support, and then finally walk. You were creating a pathway that did not exist; it took lots of hard work and practice, and you likely fell many times. As you practised, though, it became easier and easier to walk, and now, you don’t even have to think about it—you just walk. It became a well-travelled pathway, practised and maintained. It now takes little effort or thought to walk; you just do it. The pathway is very well developed.

If you grew up with a lot of chaos and felt disconnected and unheard, this becomes your “normal”—what you are used to, your well-used pathway. You will then be drawn to situations that create this same feeling, allowing you to continue on the same well-used pathway. Growing up in chaos causes your brain to create pathways to cope with this chaos. Over time, these pathways get reinforced and become stronger and stronger; they become normalized. When you are older and move away from home, you will still be drawn to chaos because it is your well engaged, well practiced pathway.

Pathways have been created in your brain, and your brain will use those pathways indefinitely; your brain goes to what it knows. Breaking these pathways and creating new pathways so you consistently do things differently long term is possible but very challenging and takes a lot of conscious effort over a significant period of time. It takes much less effort, much less conscious thought, to hop on the well travelled pathway, the freeway you have always used (e.g., chaos) than it does to create a new pathway (e.g., peace).

It is important to understand that “normal” does not mean healthy. “Normal” means what you know, what you are used to, and what you’ve practised over and over—the well-used pathway—and this can be healthy or unhealthy. It is usually an unconscious drive that you aren’t even aware is happening. It is the drive within you to do what you’ve always done or experienced and reinforce your core belief and prove to yourself what you believe about yourself is true.

Don’t strive for “normal” because “normal” is simply repeating the same unhealthy patterns in your life over and over. You don’t want to strive for normal—you want to strive for healthy.

If you grew up feeling disconnected, you aren’t going to be drawn to a relationship with someone who wants to connect, as this is NOT your well travelled brain pathway. It would be too scary, too intimidating, too overwhelming, and too vulnerable for you. This doesn’t fit with what you knew growing; it goes against what you know. It is a new pathway. It doesn’t support your well travelled pathway, your freeway in your brain of disconnection. You would likely end this relationship, saying your partner is too clingy, too intense, or too nice because it doesn’t fit with your core belief.

In order to create new pathways you have to make a conscious effort to create, develop and practice the new pathway over and over again. It is possible but takes a lot of hard work and it also takes time. Remember, just like building a road in a forest, building new pathways in your brain takes hard work and conscious thought.

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