Wait a minute, that whole “What you focus on grows” thing actually works?!

I don’t know about you, but I have heard the phrase “What you focus on grows” since I was a child. It is actually used as the tagline for the church I grew up in. Going through daily life, I have heard about the importance of making gratitude lists and “the power of positive thinking”. And then, going into the field of psychology, I learned all about the structure of the brain and different types of therapeutic models and all things pointed towards this phrase………but despite all of this, I wasn’t sure of the evidence.

Yes, I always believed that focusing on good things couldn’t hurt…but I have anxiety, so of course there was that part of my brain that thought “is this just a bunch of bulls***?”

Guess what? It’s not bulls***!

So I won’t go into all the dirty details (because unless you really love brain science, it’s a little boring). But basically, there are these neural pathways in our brains comprised of all sorts of neurons. These neural pathways in our brains are created by habits and the things we do! So the more we do something, the stronger that neural pathway gets.

For example, I never used to exercise. About a year ago, I joined a gym that I really love (check them out actually they’re awesome: burn boot camp) and that new activity created a new neural pathway. The more I went to the gym, the stronger that neural pathway became. So now, even in quarantine, I am still doing burn boot camp exercises, talking to people from burn, and thinking about burn often….that’s because my habit, strengthen my neural pathway….this sounds great, right?

It’s not always great…..what if what you’re focusing on is the death rates from COVID-19. Or all the possible ways that you could have been exposed. Or basically anything scary about what we’re living in right now…..how strong do you think those neural pathways are in your brain?

Look, I’m not saying to think about the bad stuff. We want to stay well informed, we need to look at the tough, nasty stuff to work through those things (a lot of what I do with people in therapy)…

…but if we’re only focusing on the negative…

…if we’re only focusing on our anxieties…

…if we’re only focusing on our fears…

Those neural pathways are going to be so strong it’s going to be near impossible to build up new pathways.

So next time you see someone on Instagram tell you to make a gratitude list…try it. Maybe some of those things on the list will stick in your mind and create a new pathway.