Changes are happening in our brain all the time—whether we’re aware of it or not. And so, there’s a good chance we’ve created (what we refer to at Brain Highways) some automated, unproductive highways—without even realizing it.
That’s because our brain wires both helpful and unhelpful automated responses in the very same way. Simply, if we do a behavior, again and again and again, it becomes automated.
Now, for the most part, automation is a great feature of the brain. Can you imagine if we had to do everything as though it was the first time? That would be mentally exhausting.
But here’s the problem. Our brain doesn’t have a special edit mechanism where it goes, “Hmmm . . . I see you’re doing that unproductive behavior again. But since that’s NOT helpful to you—I won’t make it automatic.”
No, whenever we do a behavior, again and again— it’s as though we’re texting our brain, “Hey, make this highway automatic”—and so our brain merely complies.
Now, unfortunately, there’s another reason we end up with automated, unproductive highways. First, we have to understand that the brain is always going to make survival its number one priority. So, as soon as our brain even thinks it’s being threatened, it sends out a survival stress alarm. Once in survival mode, we now have just three ways to respond—fight, flight, or freeze. That’s how our brain is designed to work.
In times of real danger, that’s exactly what we want to happen. If our survival is truly being threatened, we don’t have time to analyze, ponder, and contemplate information.
However, our brain has no clue as to what’s a true or imagined threat. In other words, something such as a parent saying, “It’s time to do homework,” may be all that it takes to trigger a child’s stress response.
In such case, that child might now react by screaming or throwing a textbook—which would be examples of fight responses—or hide under the table or say he first has to go do something—which would be examples of flight responses —or doesn’t budge or only stares at the assignment in front of him–which would be examples of freeze responses.
But here’s where those initial survival responses may then start a long-term automated, unproductive highway. It’s very possible that the child’s brain processes that initial survival response . . . as helpful. After all, the response got him out of doing homework, at least for a while.
And that’s when the brain goes, “Ah . . . well, then let’s repeat that behavior—and maybe not just for homework. Let’s do that behavior any time something seems threatening.” And so begins the making of an automated, unwelcome highway.
Now it’s important to note: We all have automated, unproductive highways, although sometimes these responses aren’t so obvious. For example, perfectionism (where we need everything to be just right or in place) and negative self-talk (where we think pessimistic thoughts) may also be viewed as automated, unproductive flight responses. After all, the end result is no different than the child who hides under a table—since those subtle automated responses still delay us from moving forward.
So, if we truly want to create a positive brain, we also have to learn how to disable our automated, unproductive reactions. That’s because how we integrate retained primitive reflexes and complete pons and midbrain development is very different than how we immobilize automated, unwelcome reactions.
Of course, when we do both—complete our lower brain development and disable our automated, unproductive reactions—it’s like wining the “neuroplasticity sweepstakes.” That’s because we now have a brain that works for us, where it’s incredibly easy to share our unique gifts, creative ideas, and kind heart with the rest of the world.