Forget your excuses.
Even psychopaths can change their brain structure. That means you can too.
Kent Kiehl has has made it his life’s mission to study psychopathy. He was one of the first researchers to use mobile brain scanners to analyze the differences in psychopath’s brains.
Recently he started a program at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC). This center works with criminal offenders who are deemed uncontrollable at other institutions.
Everyone already knows that punishment is completely ineffective when dealing with psychopaths. So his team focused on rewards. They simply gave the young men small rewards for any form of good behavior, no matter how trivial. The rewards also scaled up over time as their behavior improved.
And what happened?
The researchers then followed the 300 men they worked with and compared results to a similar group of psychopaths that had not been through the program.
After five years, the results were astonishing. A 50% reduction in violent crime compared to the control group. A 34% reduction in recidivism.
And not only did their behavior change. Their brains changed. Right now, Kiehl and his team are studying the changes in the young men’s brains to see what can be learned.
But since I am not particularly obsessed with psychopaths, the specific changes in brain structure are not interesting to me. What matters is that it happened at all.
No matter who you are, no matter what your circumstances, the fact is that you can change your behavior, which changes the structure of your brain, and thus your thought patterns and emotions. Everyone can do it. It makes no difference what you were born with, what label someone put on you, what mental illnesses you might have or what your genetics were. You can change your own brain and thus your own genetic code.
When you pick a goal, and celebrate each and every step you take towards that goal–no matter how insignificant–you will change.
The key is that celebration of small victories gets you addicted to the little hit of dopamine you get when you celebrate. Do that consistently enough, and you can get addicted to doing the right thing. That addiction forms new connections in the brain.
Do you think you’re too old to change?
You might be surprised by some of the current research being done on rats. Researchers have found, to their shock, that the brains of older rats are actually more malleable than younger ones. That’s what makes it harder for changes to take hold, oddly. It requires more repetition to create a new default neural pathway, because an older brain changes too easily.
From my own experience, I would also argue that age makes change easier. The problem is that you are carrying around old arguments, old family triangles. Emotional junk has built up. The conversations in your own head have built up. The labels other people have put on you–you’ve started to believe them. You’ve created an identity, and that identity is governing your behavior.
It’s not that you’re older and biologically incapable of change. It’s that you are carrying around too much junk. And you go back to your old junk too easily.
But you can let go of all of it. And you can change any of it.
So here’s the real question:
Do you want to change? How badly?