Mind the Synaptic Gap

If you want to talk about changing your brain or behavior then there are some tiny, magical spaces in your brain that must be part of the conversation. The synaptic gap is the place between neurons where the information from one neuron is passed to the next through an electrical impulse. Say I’ve got a simple bad habit, like forgetting that I put rice on the stove so that it burns to the bottom of the pot every time. That’s a repeating pattern of neural synapses firing called a neural pathway. Once a neural pathway is established it gets stronger and stronger…which makes it easier and easier for me to keep repeating the same response to starting the rice on the stove, which is to completely distract myself with other tasks. If I truly wish to change this pattern I need to change the neural pathway that leads to me getting distracted after the rice is going. I need to make a choice that will help me do something different next time. The specific solution I choose (perhaps using a timer, buying a rice cooker, or staying in the kitchen) doesn’t really matter as long as it’s logistically possible. The challenges are remembering to do something different and then actually doing it. 

Forgetting to tend to rice on the stove is a non-emotional, simple pattern to work with. I can change this easily and in fact I did years ago. It gets more complex when emotions and social identity are part of the pattern I want to change. This work takes self-patience and commitment – especially when we open ourselves up to our unconscious biases and their expressed autopilot behaviors.

When I want to change a behavior or thought pattern, I find inspiration in focusing on that space between the neurons- the synaptic gap. There is so much potential in those tiny spaces if we remember that they exist. If you are considering a New Year’s Resolution this year I invite you to “mind the synaptic gap”. Sometimes we think that just by declaring we are going to change our behavior that it will magically happen. For example, I can’t help but notice that every January the gym and yoga classes are full of people who wish to start a new fitness routine. But, slowly the ease of reverting to long established neural pathways and patterns sets in and by February we’re all back to last year’s routines. The magic in making change is not simply in making a declaration. The magic becomes powerful when we engage with the space between. Can you create and nurture a new neural pathway in order to make the change you’re hoping for? How will you mind your synaptic gaps in 2020?

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