Day 5: Changing Your Brain When I first made the decision that I wasn’t going to be afraid of my pain anymore, I felt liberated. I felt empowered. I felt bold. It lasted about 20 minutes. Why is it so easy to get pulled back in to a state of fear? This actually goes back to the brain. Just as we can develop neural pathways for pain, we can develop neural pathways for fear. If we gravitate toward the same feeling over and over, our brains learn to automatically return to that feeling...so fear can become a learned habit. On Day 2 of this program, I said that we ultimately want to help give your brain a feeling of safety. Let me be more specific: We are going to help you develop new neural pathways to fundamentally change your relationship with fear. And to start you down this path, I’m going to tell you about a woman named Christie. Christie’s Story This is Christie: Christie is a therapist at the Pain Psychology Center. She’s also the creator of the #FightYourFearChallenge (click here to watch her do a cartwheel). Christie was one of our first MSW interns, and not only was she great at getting other people out of pain, she was great at getting herself out of pain! After reading Howard Schubiner’s, “Unlearn Your Pain,” Christie overcame all of her physical symptoms, except one. She couldn’t get rid of the hand and wrist pain that came on every time she typed. The more she typed, the worse the pain got…not an ideal situation for a grad student. One night during group supervision we decided to do a brief outcome independence exercise – her typing while I was talking – and by the end of it, her pain had disappeared. It was amazing. I was lamenting that we hadn’t gotten it on tape – when our other intern triumphantly held up her iPhone and said, “I secretly recorded the whole thing!” So here’s the bootleg recording of Christie using outcome independence to overcome her pain: Your browser does not support the audio element. Click here to download the mp3 audio file At the end of the recording, Christie felt so sure that this was a turning point for her, she confidently declared, “The pain will be gone in a week.” But it wasn’t. To Fear or Not to Fear Even after her incredible success, Christie was scared of her pain for a very simple reason – she’d been scared of it so many times before. Sometimes she wondered if the pain had really gone away at all, but then she'd listen to the recording and realize, “Yep, it happened.” She got to a point where she was able to get rid of her pain but only while she was listening to the recording! What kind of rabbit hole had she fallen down?! In the end, it all came down to fear. Her brain had become habituated to fear-thoughts. But she practiced and practiced, and over three months, she developed new neural pathways. She was no longer afraid. If your mind has the tendency to gravitate toward fear, that pattern will continue until you do something to change it. Catching Your Fears I’m giving you your first homework assignment. For the rest of the day, I want you to simply watch the activity of your mind. See if you can catch yourself gravitating toward fear. Perhaps even right now you’re thinking, “What do you mean by ‘catch’?” “What do I do when I catch it?” How is this going to help me?” Those are three fear thoughts right there. See how sneaky they are? When you do catch these fear thoughts, you don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to stop them, you don’t need to fight them; you’re simply noticing them. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to take a more proactive approach to confronting your fear, but for now, you’re just an observer. This is your first step in the gradual process of teaching your brain to feel safe. You can do this. Like Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” I’ll see you tomorrow.