Better Relating By Changing Cognitive Associations
Sometimes you just don’t know what came over you. You reacted without thinking, and caused someone you love pain. Or you sabotaged an opportunity you’d waited so long for. Or perhaps your efforts to find the right person have failed you repeatedly, but you’re not sure why. Without meaning to, you were living in a type of programming, which may have been caused by bad cognitive associations, which elicit an emotional reaction from our reactive (also called reptilian) minds. These bad cognitive associations manifest as the limiting beliefs that hold us back from what we really want in our lives. Often times, these limiting beliefs were formed subconsciously, through past experiences, traumas, or unprocessed emotional pain. Working through these kinds of blockages of belief can facilitate a greater freedom of mind, as well as freedom of spirit, as we begin to see how it is that we can undo the bad cognitive associations and form new ones which move us further along toward our chosen path in life.
Our cognitive associations, and the neurological networks that they create, can operate in the background, in our subconscious, and we’re not really even aware of it. Therefore, we’re not always sure why we do things they way we do sometimes, and it can be frustrating to us, especially when we want to move our lives in a certain direction, yet we are prevented by our thoughts and actions. There is an answer and there is a way to uncover why you do what you do, or feel the way you do, but it does require some soul work and a bit of reaching for a higher state of awareness. Once you’re aware of your neural pathway connections and their associated thoughts and sensory input, and how they influence your perception, you will be able to get a better grasp on changing your self, the reality you create, and the world that you affect, for the positive.
To move yourself into a heightened state of awareness about your own thoughts, you need to observe your thoughts. As you practice examining your beliefs unemotionally and non-judgmentally, you will discover the hidden beliefs you may have which prevent you from achieving what you desire. This can be referred to as the Observing Consciousness.
Mindfulness with out judgment is where you simply observe what your thoughts are, as if you are outside of them, or above them. They are still yours, but you are noticing them a little more closely than you normally would. You notice how the thought feels when you have it, the energy associated with it, and perhaps how your body responds to the thought, and so on. You learn to tune into yourself a bit more. As you do, just describe these things to yourself. This will give you a good idea as to what your current neuro-net is, and then you can take steps to break that association which is causing you pain or limitation, and instead reprogram a new neurological network which is empowering and transformational.
Here’s an example of describing without judgment: You just receive a value judgment from someone you’d wanted a good opinion from, and you say to yourself “I notice that I am feeling constricted in my heart when he says that I am not good enough to enter that contest. I choose to release that constriction because it is not in alignment with being open to this new experience I wish to have.” When you are describing things without the judgment aspect, you are removing labels like “should” or “shouldn’t”, because while it is wonderful to have values to go by, yet it is not wonderful to live in self-created boxes that we put our minds into, that limit our perception of what is possible. We get so hemmed in by the social norms, that many are afraid to express their uniqueness due to fear of others’ judgment. As you walk in alignment with your Higher Self, you will be lead along the path that most benefits your inner ascension, if that be your will.
Conversely, judging yourself, such as saying to yourself something like, “Oh I shouldn’t have told him that I loved him. I must be stupid for trusting my heart to him” is counter-productive because you are not allowing yourself to be honest about your feelings, and you are reinforcing a belief that goes something like this: “I can’t trust men” (or women)”, which is probably the belief that attracted you to someone who would harm you in the first place, as we have a tendency to attract what it is that we are broadcasting out into our energetic field of thought (whether we’re aware of it at the time or not). Too often we place blame on the other person when we feel badly, thinking that they are the cause of our feelings, when in fact, it is we ourselves who choose how to feel. Granted, people can influence us and affect us for both good and bad, but we decide whether or not to give them power over our sense of self. If we are receiving love or hostility from someone else, it doesn’t change who we are intrinsically. If your sense of identity is based on who you are inside, and you know yourself on a core level, then someone’s else’s opinion is just that, an opinion. Could be good or bad, but it’s not necessarily gospel-truth. I’ve had some people love me and others seemed to have hated me for the same reason! You can’ t please everyone. You can only be your real self, with respect to others and their differences. Freedom for one is freedom for all. As you train your focus along these lines of non-judgmental mindfulness of yourself and others, you will find that you will have a greater sense of inner peace, and your new neural pathway will be well on its way to being part of your transformed awareness, and those old limiting cognitive associations which didn’t serve you, will be eliminated or changed.
With a transformed awareness, we are better able to interact with reality in such a way so as to create the life and the world that we desire. If we wish to reprogram our reality, we need to start within ourselves. Creating new neural patterns to stimuli should be on the top of your list since these neural patterns are what fire off the various neuro-chemicals which cause us to feel joy, elation, pain, sadness, etc. The thoughts fire off the neurons, and in turn the neurons fire off the chemicals, which are experienced by us as various emotions. That’s not to devalue the emotive quality of our lives at all. Indeed, it the very heart itself which is the seat of consciousness, and that has the capacity to rewire even the brain itself! Were you aware that the heart (higher consciousness of love) can literally re-wire or re-program the brain, and with it, it’s neuro-cognitive associations? It’s that powerful!
Ok, so just what are these cognitive associations? Cognitive associations are based on information processed in the nervous system. Neural pathways are the connections made between one part of the nervous system to another part by way of association. So when, for instance, you are feeling a sense of achievement in building a building structure, the association gets made between work you enjoy and the feeling of achievement, including the good feelings that go along with that. Those two things have been connected by way of association in the neuro-cognitive mechanism of the brain.
Creating new neural patterns, or a new neuronet (cognitive association), which is the idea is that as you do something over and over again, you train your brain’s neurons to fire together and associate themselves with each other, creating the first part of a new neuro-net (neurological network). For instance, learning to associate the feeling of joy with the practice of learning to play the clarinet will cause a neuro-cognitive association. Whenever you begin to practice the clarinet, you will eventually find yourself feeling joyful when doing so. Now, negative neuro-network mapping is stuff like if you have abuse connected with the feeling of love. If someone grows up in an abusive home, and yet they associate their abusers with the idea of love, they will neurologically network the belief that love is painful. So when someone later on says to them ” I love you”, their first reaction may be caution, because they have that emotional energy associated with (wired with) the experience of pain. This is why sometimes people will subconsciously sabotage an otherwise good relationship because of the limiting belief buried in their subconscious mind. Until that person has a major shift of conscious awareness about it, and changing the associations in their minds, they will repeat the same mistakes and wonder why.
So you have these neural pathways that are created, and that pathway, then makes a connection between one thing that is experienced to another. For instance, if you grew up being harshly criticized for making a mistake (even minor ones), then you will associate making a mistake with feeling bad or maybe unlovable, so you avoid making mistakes by avoiding making choices or commitments. The problem is, that that seriously hampers your being able to move forward in your life so as to enjoy it at its best. Such is the case with irrational fears.
For some people just the fear of making a mistake is enough motivation to prevent them from taking the chances in life which appear to them in the form of opportunities.
Each choice, each turn, is a stepping stone on our path. When we limit ourselves, from the higher path, due to harmful emotional neuro-cognitive pathways, we end up staying stuck in the same old ruts, getting the same old results, because we are entrapped in an invisible cage; a cage whose bars are forged by our own thoughts and perceptions. You can break free of the old patterns of thought and reactive mind by taking a few simple steps and repeating them until they become automatic.
Steps to Recreating your new Neuro-network:
1. Observe your thoughts without judgment. If a trusted friend or co-worker kindly points out something valid about your behavior or attitude, stop and consider what they have to share, and don’t dismiss it out of hand just because you may not like what they say. See if you can find the truth in what they share.
2. Daily Mindfulness practice. As always, awareness is the key to change, so of your feelings, learning to describe them without judgments. This will show you what your real beliefs are, and that in turn, will help you understand why things are as they are.
3. Break Old Connections. By disrupting the programmed response, old limiting neuro-net connections can be made. When you become aware of that emotional auto-pilot kicking in, stop the process in its tracks by switching gears so to speak. Do something that is quite different from the way you would have normally handled something. Instead of getting immediately flustered, for example, you can take a deep breath, become observant and focus on drawing the answer to your mind.
4. Make New Connections. Doing activities as you meditate on certain thoughts helps to make a new associative connections.
5. Maintain and Train. Once new patterns are established, they need to be maintained to become effective and transforming. So, give yourself a month or two to really tune in to changing those cognitive associations which have not served your best purpose (or possibly that of others too).
6. Most of all-Don’t give up! Making these new connections takes some doing, and it takes training of the very neurological networks in your brain. So, don’t become disappointed if it takes repeated attempts to re-wire your connections. However, if you keep your end goal in mind, that of being more in control of yourself, being able to think more clearly, and become more empowered in the process, then the you’ll keep in view the reason why you are not going to give up!