7 Basic Brain Process Behind the Development of Self-Narratives

The language we use frames the mindset and the attitude we have toward something. At the neurological level, the words we use can activate corresponding neural networks, triggering pathways to activate. By this logic, a simple negative thought can activate a whole associated network and take the brain down a negative path—figuratively, but also kind of literally. Activating a cell assembly associated with a negative thought pattern literally guides our next thoughts in a negative direction, as signals continue spreading to other related cell assemblies (Goldstein, 2019). After repeated firing of these cell assemblies, they become integrated together into a neural network. Once a network is established, the whole thing can become activated with any single access point—in other words, it only takes one negative thought to set off a whole stream of negative thoughts and feelings. Chances are, you’ve experienced this yourself before—you start off thinking badly about yourself for one reason, and end up feeling badly for another reason. Unfortunately for us, the more negative thoughts we have, the more likely we are to have them again, as well. The more the brain uses a pathway, the probability that it will fire again increases, and the pathway actually strengthens (Goldstein, 2019).

While that neurological function can fuel negative self-talk, it is also the same mechanism by which we learn new things. The exciting news is that with some effort, we are capable of learning new patterns of thinking which can redirect us away from the negative pathway. Using language, we can train the brain to take a different path. It will take lots of practice, but with time and effort the brain will respond by creating new cell assemblies, which will then become connected into new neural networks. Essentially, the workbook intervention will utilize this cognitive process and direct it into a positive pathway, so students hopefully get to a point where a positive thought pattern is more likely to be activated than a negative one.