Let’s talk a bit about the brain because so many people have been sold on the idea that the brain is run by things that are out of our control.
What is the brain? Well, it’s not a computer like the one you’re reading this on. It is a cybernetic device that manages all kinds of things, from breathing and heart rate to more complicated things like our mood (whatever that is).
It is made up of 100,000,000,000 cells called neurons that are connected together by wires called axons and dendrites. Just as a comparison, the brain of a fruit fly contains about 10,000 neurons, which is why people are somewhat smarter than fruit flies.
Each neuron can be connected to many other neurons. The estimated number of connections is around 100,000,000,000,000. That makes the human brain about the most complicated device on earth; more complicated than the entire internet. The point of connection between two neurons is called a synapse.
A synapse is a switch that receives a signal from a neuron and either routes the signal on to other neurons or stops the signal, depending on the synapses current chemical environment. The chemical environment changes from moment to moment.
We have learned a lot about the brain in the past 30 years but the truth is we don’t really know how neurons group together to achieve results. We don’t even understand how the brain stores information.
The brain is good at two things. First, it likes to do pretty much the same thing today that it did yesterday. That’s called habituation. Second, the brain is built to learn new things by itself. That’s called plasticity. Every second of your life, your brain is changing. New connections are being made and old ones pruned away.
The brain also behaves differently from moment to moment due its changing chemical environment.
At any given moment, we are the sum of the ours brain’s synaptic connections along with the chemical environment of those connections. Those synaptic connections determine, at this moment, how we behave.
But our behavior also affects our brains. Certain chemicals in our brain tend to make us feel good, but feel good behavior such as playing, sex, eating tasty food, and laughing increases the amount of feel good chemicals in our brain. When we have more feel good chemicals in our brain, we behave in more feel good ways; then we get more feel good chemicals going. It’s brain boggling. Ultimately, it is our behavior that controls our brain.
How do you take advantage of the brain/behavior connection? That will be addressed in a future post, “How you feel is not all in your head.”