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The Collected Papers of Joseph Riggio

Beware - You Are Molding Your Life with Every Decision You Make

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Many of us believe in the fact that learning is fundamental to life, but few of us know how true - and how dangerous - that fact can be. Few of us realize how every decision we take causes lasting changes in our mind - how we mold our lives with every decision we make.

To understand why, we need to look at the physiology behind learning. The physical mechanism that corresponds to the abstract phenomenon of learning is known as long-term potentiation. The brain is composed of a number of cells called neurons. Most of the mass in a neuron is found at the front end, or the nucleus, which then tapers off into a thin stalk known as an axon. Neurons contain an electrical potential. Whenever the electrical potential in the nucleus becomes sufficiently high, the neuron "fires", sending a burst of electricity down the neuron's length to the axon. The electrical charge exits the axon and leaps to a subsequent neuron, increasing its potential. If enough neurons lend potential to a neuron further down the chain, that neuron will in turn fire. Given enough potential, these chains of electricity can become quite large, allowing physically distant parts of the brain to connect and interact at lightning speed, literally.

When a certain chain of neurons fires frequently in a short period of time, some of the electrical potential from the firing of the first neuron in the chain remains in the second neuron, making it easier for the first neuron to fire the second. After a certain number of neural firings, the chain becomes automatic, and whenever the first neuron fires the second neuron will invariably follow. This process, called long-term potentiation, is what we talk about on a neurological level when we talk about learning. The nature of long-term potentiation helps to explain our methods of learning. For example, when we're learning our basic arithmetic facts or the vocabulary in a second language, we get better results if we drill ourselves: if we repeat the arithmetic fact or the definition of a new word to ourselves over and over in a short period of time. This allows the neurons in our brain responsible for the different parts of the fact or definition to become potentiated with respect to one another until it becomes second nature to us to think of 5 when we think of 2 + 3, or to think of a dog when we think of the word Labrador.

This accords perfectly with neuro-linguistic programming's account of the learning process. According to NLP, our minds program themselves at certain critical periods with the statements we think of or the conclusions we draw from events. These conclusions and statements, known to NLP as "engrams", become part of the physical structure of our minds and become the lens through which all of our perceptions are filtered, the mental "dictionary" through which we determine the meaning of the information we take in from the world.

But just as we encounter disastrous setbacks if we use a poorly-researched dictionary, we run into severe problems if our mind's programming - if our patterns of thinking - are distorted in any way. And the foundation of our patterns of thinking are, in a real way, the decisions we make.

When we make a decision, we invariably come to some conclusion about the world. In NLP terms, we ask ourselves a question - what do I want to do at this point in time? - and we provide ourselves with an answer - I want to do this, that, or the other. It doesn't matter if our decision isn't phrased in positive terms - for example, if we decide that we "don't want to go to the mall today", or some other negatively-phrased statement; we're still answering the question. We're still coming to a conclusion and formulating an internal "statement", whether in words, images, sounds, or even sensations. And we're still programming our mind to think in a certain way, even hard-wiring it in physical chains of electrical potential.

If we consistently decide to avoid risks, then, we become the type of people who can't consider taking risks as an option. If we consistently mull over our failures or grim events in our past, we become the type of people who can't look at the present or at the future. And if we consistently decide to avoid decisions, we become the type of people who fail to know what we want. Our decisions, in a very real, physical way, mold our lives.

Aristotle, in the Nichomachean Ethics, defined habit as the foundation of morality. If we consistently act in a moral way, he said, we become predisposed to act morally in the future; if we consistently act in a dissipated way we become dissipated people. This held true more than 2,000 years ago and it holds true today. Yet we often tell ourselves that moments of weakness are only that - moments - rather than the seeds of lifelong policies. Instead, we need to be more cautious about the decisions we make and more concerned about the type of person they make us into. We mold our lives with every decision we make, so we must make sure always to choose to act in ways that we'd like to act for the rest of our lives - to choose to always be the people that we want most deeply to be.

Generative NLP are a refreshingly plain spoken resource and training centre for the MythoSelf® Process that is based in South West London and was founded in 2001 by Charles Moore who is one of only a handful of people who has the privilege of being in a close mentoring relationship with the models creator, Joseph Riggio Ph.D. from the beginning. 

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