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The change in attitude that generates the powerful effects of neuroplasticity is the fundamental shift from fear to peace. It is called positive neuroplasticity, and it is the key to the Good Life, which is a life of being well and doing well on your way to flourishing. This book presents fear and peace not in spiritual terms, but from a neurological perspective.
Neurologically, fear is the trigger that sets off stress reactions. It’s the fear of danger. For modern human beings, rarely is the stress response system triggered by a real and present danger, such as a rattlesnake. More often, stress reactions are triggered by psychological fear that mistakes a coiled rope for a snake. “We human beings are smart enough to generate all sorts of stressful events purely in our heads . . . all linked to mere thoughts,” writes Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University School of Medicine. These thoughts excite upsetting emotions that produce a perception of threat, sending the brain and mind into an uproar. In short, you paint yourself into a stressful corner with your thoughts, but awareness of the mental pattern that trapped you is what gets you out of that tight corner. Awareness creates a kind of pattern interrupt within the brain that puts things on pause for a moment and presents you with the opportunity to choose a more positive course of action—one that preserves your peace of mind. When you bring a stressful thought pattern safely into awareness, where its illusion can be challenged and dispelled, a new memory is formed that inhibits the old conditioned response. Conscious awareness excites a neuroplastic process that strengthens a specific neural pathway made of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) fibers. This neural pathway projects down to the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, and secretes peptides that extinguish fear reactions: no fear, no stress reaction. And as we’ve seen, no stress reaction, no loss of brain power. The higher brain comes online and can now assist you in making an intelligent choice. It turns out that, neurologically, inner peace is the most intelligent choice, because inner peace facilitates the brain chemistry and structure that promote intelligence.
Peace begins where stress ends. So let’s define peace in neurological terms. In terms of your brain, peace represents neural networks wiring and firing together to sustain the proverbial calm under siege that enables you to relate to a problem fearlessly, analyze it intelligently, engage it creatively, and make the best available choice or decision in a given situation. Essentially, being stress free is a dynamically peaceful mind-set. Practice shifting your experience from fear to peace, and in a few weeks, positive neuroplastic change will occur.
This shift from fear to peace is made by accentuating simple principles. It’s letting go of fear. It’s refusing to believe worried, pessimistic, and stress-provoking thoughts. It’s being present, here and now, living each moment fully. It’s trusting the process of life as it unfolds, changing what you can, and accepting what you can’t change. It’s being open, honest, and flexible. It’s grounding yourself in the authentic person you are instead of chasing some ideal of who you, or others, think you should be. It’s having faith in yourself. It’s pursuing what you love with a sense of purpose, perpetually anticipating positive outcomes. It’s having unconditional positive regard and empathy for the people in your life. It’s listening to them better, judging them less, forgiving them more, and being kinder.
In referring to these principles as “simple,” I don’t mean to imply that they are easy to attain. But they don’t need to be hard, either. Like a garden, principles require cultivation. Cultivate even a few of these qualities, and they will eventually come together to form a dynamically peaceful attitude. Empower a dynamically peaceful attitude in your daily life, and within a matter of weeks that new attitude will become neuroplastic, producing the brain structure that generates more success in your endeavors, more joy in your work, more love in your relationships, more peace in your day, and more spring in your step.
My think tank and I took all these findings and built a model to teach people how to end stress based on cognitive, emotional, and attitudinal processes that facilitate neuroplasticity. The training model teaches a set of tools and processes that gradually build into a practice that integrates into your daily life. The training is delivered over eight weeks, reflecting the outside range of how long neuroplasticity takes. This book has reconfigured the training model into a program that you can easily follow. If you practice the tools and processes with consistency, your brain will begin to change to end stress. How long it takes depends on the degree to which you practice. If you don’t practice, the information in this book will still take you part way up the mountain, but forming a daily practice from the tools and processes can take you to the summit.
Practice is taking the right step repeatedly until that step takes you effortlessly, almost automatically, in the direction you want to go. You now understand the neurological importance of peace and its power to generate the brain function to deliver an optimal life experience—in your career, in your personal life, in yourself. After all is said and done, peace is what matters in life.
Practice takes discipline, and discipline is simply remembering what you want and choosing it. The discipline of peace gets easier the more you choose it, simply because peace makes everything easier. Making the shift from stress to peace is the energetic shift from feeling poorly to feeling alive and healthy. It is the mental shift from feeling worried, lackluster, and disconnected to being clear, bright, and resonant.
So, let’s get started.
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