Heal, Grow, Empower, Transcend

Pain is not just a signal, it’s a motivation.

Posted Sep 23, 2020

Emotional healing, growth, empowerment, and transcendence require adherence to the following neurological principles. Ignoring or violating any of them inhibits healing and growth and all but eliminates transcendence.

1. Mental focus amplifies and magnifies.

Whatever we focus on becomes more important than what we don't focus on.

Focus on what is most important to you.

Focus on what you want to achieve, how you want to think, what you want to do, and how you want to be in life.

Focus on improving your situations, on appreciating more, connecting to others, and protecting (nurturing) those most important to you.

2. The neural connections forged by repeated focus grow physically larger and stronger and are prone to automatic activation.

Highly reinforced neural connections are experienced as habits. Your brain loves habits because they conserve energy. The difference between a habitual behavior and one intentionally decided is hundreds of millions of multi-firing neurons.

The brain stores numerous assumptions about its environment based on experience, which it uses to make behavior choices. If there is no apparent environmental exception to the string of assumptions underlying a given behavioral impulse, it’s enacted automatically, without conscious thought, emotion, or perception. You can walk across your living room and sit down without thinking or feeling anything about it. You don’t have to look for the chair, because your brain assumes where it is. (You can’t do that in a hotel room, which is why travel is exhausting. In an unfamiliar environment, your brain must formulate new strings of assumptions for routine behaviors.) In familiar environments, most of what we do is on autopilot, consuming far fewer energy resources than consciously decided behavior choices.

Anything you do repeatedly, you’ll begin to do on autopilot.

3. We change the brain through a change in focus and repetition.

Much has been written about neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to change. Insight about the how in the past habits may have been formed or what may have influenced their formation, does not change them; only practice of desired ways of thinking and behaving will.

Optimal change of habits occurs with respect to a hierarchy:

  • Repeatedly thinking about the desired change.
  • Imagining in detail how you will overcome any barriers to the desired change.
  • Practicing the specific behaviors likely to lead to the desired change.

Think often about healing and growth, rather than pain, damage, and mistreatment. Think of how you will overcome any barriers to healing and growth. Imagine often what you might do differently, if you had achieved the desired change, and then do those behaviors repeatedly.

Choose value over power

If your life feels genuine, with sustained interest, purpose, conviction, and compassion, you have created a set of values and more or less kept true to them. Fidelity to your deeper values provides conviction, passion, purpose, meaning, and a genuine sense of self.

To value is to regard someone or something as important and worthy of appreciation, time, energy, and sacrifice. Valuing (something or someone) enhances the sense of self. The moment of value-creation makes us feel more vital, engaged, interested, appreciative — more alive. Life means more to us at the instant we create value and means less to us when we are not creating value.

We get stuck by confusing loss of self-value with loss of power and respond with temporary empowerment — anger or resentment (driven by low-grade adrenaline). Most of the time, this causes a further violation of our deeper values.

Transcendence is the ability to choose value — doing what will make you feel more valuable when we feel powerless. The easiest way to feel valuable is to be compassionate, kind, or loving. This is a simple skill that anyone can acquire with practice.

When you feel powerless, do something that will make you feel more valuable (e.g., compassionate, kind, or loving). In 20 minutes (shorter, if not a lot of cortisol was secreted with the negative emotion), your self-value will be higher than before the powerless feeling occurred.

Acting on what is most important

Much of the suffering in the world occurs when we violate what is most important to us by acting on what is less important.

If you think of the big mistakes you’ve made in life, nearly every one involves violating a deeper value by acting on something that was not as important to you. In fact, we consistently violate more important values by acting on less important feelings and impulses. We’re susceptible to this recurring error for two reasons.

Deeper values do not run on automatic pilot like habits and impulses. Rapidly processed in the brain, habits and impulses largely bypass the prefrontal cortex (where we make decisions based on values). If we consistently act on superficial feelings, which are largely habits, we’ll consistently violate our deeper values.

Don’t focus so much on how you feel; instead, focus on whether you want to value or devalue.

Most of the time we don’t want to devalue, we just want behavior change. Of course, devaluing hardly ever gets the positive behavior change we want.

Deeper values are less in consciousness than ego-defense, impression management, and preferences, and tastes. Yet fidelity to deeper values provides a sense of authenticity, which makes ego-defense and impression-management unnecessary. In general, if I feel defensive or try to make you think a certain way about me, I need to get in touch with my deeper values.

To compensate for the bias of consciousness, we need a daily reminder of what is most important to us.

Using pain to grow greater

To transcend is to go beyond limits, to become greater. Pursuing the transcendent life is to become the most empowered and humane person we can be. This, I believe, is the evolved function of pain. Not to suffer or to identify with suffering, but to grow beyond it. The natural motivation of pain is to motivate behavior that will heal, correct, and improve.