Have you ever compared notes with a colleague after a business meeting and found that you each thought something different was agreed? Or reflected on a holiday to find that you recall it as being really enjoyable, but the person you were with only remembers the times when things didn’t go to plan?
How can this be? Well, it can’t be the event itself. When all is said and done, pretty much the same things happened to each of you. It actually boils down to the way we think about things. And the way we think about things is ultimately a result of how our neurons (nerve cells) are connected in our brains.
When we are born we have around 100 billion neurons in our brain. At this stage it’s pretty much a blank canvass and we have relatively few connections between the neurons. As we experience life, so our brain cells connect in such a way that we can recognise a situation next time around and respond appropriately. In other words, we learn.
So, it’s easy to see that if we have different experiences, we learn to respond to events in a different way. Fast forward a few years and our past experiences shape who we are. If in the playground at school we found that our input was overlooked in favour of a more confident friend, we may subconsciously ‘learn’ that it’s a waste of time speaking up in meetings or expressing an opinion.
Of course, to us, it feels normal. How I respond to a situation feels normal to me, and the way you respond feels normal to you, and it comes as quite a shock when we realise that others don’t see the world as we see it.
None of this is a problem if our experiences have shaped us to lead a fulfilled and contented life, with inbuilt resilience to tackle the occasional challenge. If, however, we have developed into an anxious, fearful individual then that’s not so much fun.
The good news is that our brains are ‘plastic’, they are malleable, and with the appropriate training we can learn to respond differently to life events. We actually forge new connections between the neurons in our brains, so we can react in a more helpful way.
Of course, anything worth doing takes effort and consistency, but the rewards can literally be life-changing.