Can we really re-wire our brain?

As humans, we always change over the years. Our bodies, beliefs, tastes in food and clothes, the books we read, the TV shows we watch and many others. If you were to look back at yourself 10 years ago, then you’d realise that you are a very different person now than you were then.

However, some things hardly change. It may be the fact that you have either been a morning person or a night person right from your childhood. Or that you have never liked brinjals. Or maybe you never found studying history fun. Or probably you still bite your nails. These traits have been part of you for so damn long that you never thought that you could get rid of them. In fact they are part of your identity. You may have tried really hard to consciously change these traits at one point or the other. However, doing so feels like you are continuously rapping the knuckles of your automatic self and constantly keeping your brain on a high alert to avoid automatic behaviour. That is tiring and certainly not enjoyable.

However, what if it is possible to change these traits using certain methods to re-wire your brain, such that new behaviour becomes part of you? Anthony Robbins is the leader of a method called Neuro-Linguistic Programming and he believes that you can use this kind of ‘programming’ to re-wire your brain so that it behaves exactly as you want it to, without resorting to will power to rap your knuckles.

Some of my stubborn traits

I have a few traits which I wish simply went away. Some of them really come in the way of me enjoying things. For instance, I find it very uncomfortable to eat food with my hands and most traditional Indian meals during occasions like marriages become an ordeal for me. I have a long list of food items that I do not particularly like and avoid them if possible or just force them down my throat, wishing that the plate would soon be empty. A strange and funny one is that I do not like holding women’s handbags for too long! Priya, my wife and in the past, Aarthy, my sister have requested me to hold onto their handbags as a favour while their hands were busy with something else and I would wish that no one saw me holding a woman’s handbag. I would almost be tempted to put the handbag down on the floor.

The list of strange traits can go on and on. But the point is that I had been using my willpower to subdue all my negative feelings and stressing myself out.

My most unwanted traits

When I heard about NLP / brain re-wiring, I decided to try the concept on two traits that I wanted to change the most.

My first ‘get-lost’ trait was my hate for curd / yogurt. I knew deep down that in the warm climate of India, curd is probably the best power food that would take care of a lot of things. Regular consumption keeps the body heat down, gives pimples and heat boils no chance to crop up and keeps the stomach health top notch by breeding the culture of bacteria (pro-biotics) that is essential for smooth digestion and tummy health.

My second unwanted trait was my motion sickness. The moment I had to take a ride by a bus / 4-wheel driven vehicle / back seat of a car for a journey more that an hour, I would start throwing up. If it were a mountain road, then I would retch until nothing came out. I could feel my stomach tighten with nothing inside by the time I was done. I would end up miserable and exhausted. I started taking anti-histamine tablets before each ride, but anti-histamine makes me really sleepy, so much that on mountain roads, I would sleep through the breath-taking views of valleys and waterfalls and end up groggy. Damned if I take a pill, damned if I didn’t. I thought it was a body disability, just like a visually impaired man cannot see or an audibly impaired man cannot hear.

My tryst with NLP

Now, I will put up a disclaimer that what I tried was not professional NLP in the purest sense, but something I put together on my own based on what I heard from podcasts and read from blogs. I am happy to say that those crude methods worked for me, but I wouldn’t claim to be a field expert, not even close.

The idea is that the brain subconsciously believes in certain things and uses triggers for automatic behaviour. These beliefs are built as our body uses our senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Based on these inputs, the subconscious brain builds a ‘database’ of core memories and beliefs. The subconscious region triggers the conscious part of the brain and lo and behold, we have thoughts, senses and behaviour during subsequent experiences. If one could catch the subconscious part of the brain and change the beliefs and triggers at the core, then the signals will not reach the conscious part of our brain. To make that happen, one needs to re-program or re-convince the subconscious part of the brain to change its core beliefs.

In my case, I did not like the taste of curd since my first experience might have possibly been with really sour curd. Or possibly my first 3-4 experiences with curd might have been sour, such that my brain simply associated that taste with curd. But then, everytime I tried curd, my brain would automatically activate the really sour taste, based on memory rather than the actual curd that I was eating at that point of time. I realised this limitation only recently. Likewise, simply the act of getting into a bus must have been triggering my brain to turn on the my motion sickness, rather than it being a disability.

I decided to try and condition my brain to like curd and to avoid motion sickness. Frankly speaking, I did not have any specific method or procedure to follow. I haven’t been to a formal NLP course and wouldn’t know what goes on there. However I did try a few things to see if they work for my brain.

My trials

In the book, The Secret, author Rhonda Byrne describes how we make things manifest and happen just by visualising them regularly. It has to do with universal energy fields aligning themselves for your purpose. I haven’t quite fully understood how it works, but as they say, you need not understand how a car’s engine works in order to drive a car. I decided to give visualisation a try, even though it sounded somewhat religious and beyond my accepted hyper-scientific norms!

My wife, Priya and I have a book each, where we write down things that we should visualise every morning after getting up and at night before going to sleep, the future dreams that we hold dearest to us. And guess what tiny items were on that list! Me eating curd and liking the taste 🙂 Likewise there is a visualisation of me taking bus rides and enjoying mountain valleys and scenes without feeling giddy.

In February, I started morning meditation at around 5:15 am. It helps silence my brain from running too fast and build focus for the day ahead. My morning visualisation is right after the meditation these days.

002-meditation

Also during one of her trips to Chennai, Priya brought back a set of audio CDs with her. These CDs had music with hidden sounds, i.e. sounds that can’t be heard by our ears, but can be picked up by our brain. The music is called Theta music. Such music is said to make our brain more absorbent to new ideas and program new beliefs in our subconscious. I have no idea if that worked, but we decided to try it anyway. And on cue, I used to visualise liking curd and not getting motion sickness right during the time the music played.

The outcome

What surprised me most was that neither of the two outcomes was particularly gradual. It was as if something snapped inside me and I suddenly changed.

One fine day, while travelling from Mumbai to Delhi by train, we were offered curd as part of the meals and I decided to try it just in case…. and I liked it…. No, loved it!!! Granted that it was a premium brand of curd, but I had never liked curd of any kind, even if it were world-class premium. I began to wonder if brain conditioning at the subconscious level really works.

Just last week, we had to go on two long bus trips, Chennai to Trichy and back. It takes 7 hours by bus, the type of ride that would certainly cause me to practically empty my tummy. I took no chances during the onward trip and took an anti-histamine pill. I slept and slept through the trip and even continued to sleep after we reached the venue and generally felt very groggy until next morning. Prior to this, I had already taken two one-hour long bus rides without side effects in Mumbai and Uttarakhand. I was wondering if I should cast off the yoke and take an unmedicated 7-hour long ride as well. Sans the pill, I sat in the bus, took the ride, watched a movie on board…. and nothing happened. It was as if I never had motion sickness! Previously, even turning my head away from the window or looking at my phone screen would cause nausea, let alone watch a movie on a big screen. Reading a book would be a real problem with all the shaking and it would give me instant giddiness. However during this trip, Priya caught me reading the letters off the back of another moving bus, while our own bus was moving. And the letters were in Tamil, which is not even my fluency.

What I inferred

I have no idea if the combination of visualisation and theta music worked, or if my tastes and disability suddenly decided to change logically overnight, but it all worked out in the end. I do not believe in black magic, nor much in miracles , so I am sure some scientific explanation exists. But I do believe now that one can subconsciously change the brain’s functioning through a practiced routine. I have no idea if it works for small annoyances like motion sickness or would it even help heal or reduce long-term disabilities like paralysis due to injury. One thing is for sure, the more the brain is fed positive thoughts and energies, the stronger it responds.

Conclusion

Do you have any annoying traits that you have wanted to get rid of for a seriously long time? What have you tried so far to get rid of them? Do you have a detailed scientific explanation of how my body responded to concur with my wishes? Please share your story and thoughts in the comments.

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Harikrishna Natrajan

Unleashing life's full potential

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  7. Bringing into life something that you only had visualized can be a bit scary. I have been luckily scared many times now. In Fact Scott Adams of Dilbert fame recommends the same visualization technique which he had used to skew his exam results, and even stock market.

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