Shrink the Right Synapses

A recent biochemical study has proven what many of us have known all along—it is easiest to think about those things we spend the most time thinking about. From a biochemical point of view, the synaptic space (the space between nerves) in our brains gets smaller the more we use them. This allows us to think quicker and easier in areas we think most often.

This means first having a thought makes it easier to have that thought again. Every time that thought is repeated, it become exponentially easier to dwell on that thought. This has both positive and negative consequences. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Recently, as a part of Toastmasters, a public speaking organization, I was challenged to use the word “zaftig.” ­After hearing that it was a synonym of the word “plump,” I used it several times in the next hour and have since ­adopted it into my vocabulary. The more I use the word, it becomes more readily ­available for me in regular conversation. This is true for any of us.
Similarly, the more a student will review new information over the course of weeks in preparation for a test, the more readily it will be accessible when the test is happening. This is why last-minute cramming does not work well. There is not time to shrink the synapses to make the information available. Instead of quickly reading a series of facts 20 times the hour before a test, read them 20 times over the course of the week before the test. This allows the information to become more usable.

We will often find ourselves repeating what we often hear. Unfortunately, what we often hear is not conducive to the character of Christ. When we spend our days hearing people speak inappropriate words, then we fill our evening hearing those same words on television, it becomes very difficult to disengage those thoughts from our minds. While we might have the self-control to keep ourselves from using “corrupt communication” (Eph 4.29), we probably still struggle to keep those thoughts out of our minds and mental conversation. We dare not verbally say what we sometimes mentally say. If you even wondered why those words are still in your mind even though you don’t use them personally, it is because when you hear them you are shrinking those synapses. We must control what enters our minds if we want to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor 10.5).

The same is true regarding positive and negative thinking. Negative thinkers tend to fall deeper and deeper into the negative thinking trap while positive thinkers tend to get more and more positive. Just think about someone you know who is a negative thinker; It doesn’t matter what kind of good news they receive, they will find some way to turn it negative. The opposite is true of a positive thinker. Don’t think this is some sort of genetic personality trait. Instead realize that what we fill out minds with is what we can expect to come out. People who spend their days watching negative television programs (i.e., most news broadcasts, court programs, soap operas, most dramas, etc.) find themselves finding the negative side of life. Nothing is good. Everything is going to “hell in a hand basket.” They think negatively about themselves and others. Someone lends them a compliment and they respond by saying, “I think I look zaftig.” Life is literally “hell on earth” for negative thinkers because they are living a life without hope, without joy, without peace, without trust, and without truth. Essentially, negative thinkers are living “hell in earth” because they are living a life without God who provides all of those good things.

Positive people do not have this trouble. They think about positive things, assume positive outcomes, and even hear criticism with positivity. This is not because they are inherently different but because they have shrunk the right synapses.

Anyone can do this. The method is simple and found in Philippians 4.4-8. “Rejoice,” Paul says. Let me say that again. Paul commands that we rejoice! If we are anxious, pray to a God who answers prayers. Trust in Him for peace. Think on good things. If we will dwell on good things, meditate on the positive, we will find ourselves to be joyful people! God created our synapses. He knows how they work and He wants us to shrink the right ones!