Updated: May 12
Overeating, procrastinating, excessive spending, and self-berating—all are common examples of a patterned neuropsychological response. Triggers in our environment can evoke this kind of automatic and unconscious response. These patterns are not habits—they’re actually deeper, and more ingrained.
Habits are the behavioral response to patterns, and patterns are an expression of unhealed emotional wounds, unconscious beliefs, or stories that we’ve come to accept over time, internally. Patterns often result from past trauma and stress and show themselves in our daily lives as thoughts or behaviors.
An example of a patterned response is telling yourself you’re no good when you seemingly “fail” at something simple. For example, when you lose a game or don’t meet an important deadline, you berate yourself for being incompetent or a ‘loser’. To someone observing the behavior, the response doesn’t appear to match your personality or usually confidence level, but your response might come from years of being told you’re not ‘good enough’ at something that mattered to you, or something similar. Whether it was an external conversation, or an internal one with just your inner talk, it has become normalized and accepted as true, as part of who you are.
Negative neural patterning makes it hard to lead a happy and healthy life. But you can unravel these using mindfulness and other meditation techniques. Over time, meditation can help reshape your brain.
Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar showed that meditation increases brain matter and functionality in regions of your brain responsible for memory, empathy, compassion, and resiliency. Strengthening and revising these regions is essential to implementing real change in how we see ourselves and how we operate in our day to day life.
Here are three mindfulness and meditation techniques you can use to unravel old patterns and being to reshape your brain:
1. Become an observer. You have the choice to participate or not participate with your thoughts. When you experience negative thoughts or realize you’re engaging in a negative pattern (like overeating), acknowledge what is happening. Become the observer and ask yourself whether that behavior is serving you. Be gentle with yourself and remember that your thoughts are separate from you—they are not you. Expand your awareness by asking questions and welcoming what comes, whether those are thoughts, feelings, or even an emotional response in your body. During this process, watch for feelings or beliefs that surface, like feelings of inadequacy.*
2. Relax with full body awareness. Meditation is about becoming aware of your body and the space your body takes up. When we experience old patterns, we can often feel those patterns in our physical bodies. You can use meditation to bring your awareness inward and notice the areas where you feel tension or disconnect with an open mind. Allow yourself to feel the thoughts and feelings that surface. Become aware without giving away your power. Don’t allow negative thoughts to escalate or sweep you away. Suppressing your thoughts is unproductive, and they will resurface. Remember, you’re not focusing on the thought—your focus is on how the thought makes you feel and how and where it manifests in your body. You’re simply acknowledging this mind-body relationship and noticing its unique patterning in this moment.
3. Practice daily meditation. To reshape your brain and create healthier patterns of thought and behavior, you’ll need to adopt a regular meditation practice. Slow and steady wins the race when beginning a meditation practice. Here are a few tips for getting started.
Mediate at the same time each day. This will help make meditation a regular part of your routine. It can take four to six weeks to form a new habit, so you’ll need to be patient but diligent.
Start with five minutes a day. Many new meditators think they need to sit quietly for 30 minutes or an hour. Five minutes a day is easy to commit to and can still have positive effects on your well-being.
Make it comfortable. The origin of yoga was to train the body to sit in meditation. Sitting in meditation for any period takes a lot of strength. Make yourself comfortable. Sit on a chair with both feet on the ground. Recline with a pillow under your knees. Lie flat on your back. Find a position that is comfortable for you.
Unraveling old patterns is not a simple task. Think about how much time it took to develop that inner directional system in the first place. And how long it's been in use. Be patient with yourself as this process unfolds. Plan to reward yourself for making progress and learn to enjoy the journey.
*Meditation is a powerful tool, but meditation does not replace psychotherapy. It’s also helpful to seek a qualified therapist. We can all use an empathetic—and qualified—ear.
Jessica Crow helps people harness the power of meditation and mindfulness to change their lives and the lives of others for the better through practical courses and personalized mentorship.
Check out her book 'The Power of Guided Meditation', published by Fair Winds Press and her New On Demand Course 'The Power of Guided Meditation', for anyone who wants to harness the power of meditation in their own lives.