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To Your Health

Are Your “Brain Grooves” Working?

Adell Claypool

07/10/2017

“We shall be individually, for time and eternity, what our habits make us.”
—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 452

That good habit you made is a habit because it developed a physical and chemical pathway in your brain.

Every time we repeat the same thought, feeling, or action—whether good or bad—we wear deeper “grooves” in our brain, and with stimulation the nervous tissue responds, more readily.

Dr. Elden M. Chalmers, ordained minister, psychologist, and university and college educator, once explained to a class I attended that messages are processed in the brain and then sent to various parts of the body through nerve cells. Each cell is made of a nucleus with surrounding fluid (cytoplasm) and boundary membrane. From this membrane come many little fibers (dendrites) that receive messages and one long fiber (axon) that transmits messages to the neighboring cells. Stimulate these pathways with thoughts or actions and you have a habit, a “groove” in your brain.

Perhaps it’s a bit difficult to wrap your brain (!) around all of this (there’s much more) but if you can, you’ve developed a new brain pathway.

When I was 10 years old my parents sent me to a trombone teacher—long before girls were known to play brass instruments—and after each lesson I was sent home to practice. By employing various techniques of the lips, tongue, breath, and arm-stretching, I repeated over and over those elements of horn blowing that would someday produce (hopefully) a “golden trombone” sound that eventually placed me on first trombone in bands in which I later played. I remember once as a teenager repeating a four-note passage, focusing on intonation—trying to play it as many times as necessary to tire Mother of my practice. It worked. Mother wearied of hearing that passage, but today I’m able to play those four-notes in tune, having formed that “groove” in my brain that has lasted more years than I care to admit. Muscular memory that controls the distance my arm must reach, coupled with a sensitive “ear,” formed those “grooves” in my brain and body which, at this age and still being reinforced, will probably never be eliminated.

The sobering thought is that every act, thought, or feeling produces changes in our nerve pathways that become curses or blessings when these changes are reinforced. What kind of brain signals are your children forming when they see or hear your example? What kind of brain “pathways” are you forming in your daily walk with God, your Bible study, or even your positive (or negative?) attitude toward activities around you?

We can build new brain pathways by consciously responding differently to given situations. Of course, this is not only true with adults, but also with children. What kind of habit patterns or “grooves” are your children building? What experiences do they engage in that develop habits of self-discipline and strong Christian character? Perhaps this jaded music educator can suggest a music education in which habit patterns and self-discipline must be developed.

Warding off depression and anxiety may mean developing a new set of habit patterns. Developing good habits of prayer, praise, and Bible study are essential to paving the brain with those “grooves” that will be a lot more difficult to form after you retire. Just ask most any retiree.