Home > Miscellaneous > The Science of Transformation

The Science of Transformation

What up yo? I’m generally very limited in my reading variety, but every once in a while a book slips in there that is out of the ordinary for me. A year and a half ago, I read the majority of a book entitled something like, “The Neuroscience of Psychology” by Louis Cozolino. I don’t remember the title. It was a really well done book that focused on discussing implications of a vast number of studies done at the level of the neuron in the brain. One may ask why I am writing about this book now and not when it was fresh in my mind? That is such a good question and if you did ask that or a variation of it, kudos.

It seems really pertinent right now. The last six months I’ve watched a lot of people (myself included, but its easier to see from the outside) who want to change certain things about who they are and how they respond to the world around them. But they don’t change. Most of the time they want to change, but when a situation arises that provides for them an opportunity to be different, they do exactly what they don’t want to do or they don’t do exactly what they want to do. With a sense of inevitability and being out of control of one’s own actions, they revert to doing what they’ve always done and being who they always were. Over and over again the desire to change goes hand in hand with utter changelessness.

In part, our inability to change is related to the way that our brain works. First, it’s important to think of our brain for what it is. Everything that we think, say, feel, see, hear, and do (other than a handful of reflexive motions of limbs) is the result of neuron firings in our brain. This doesn’t mean we’re simple creatures or unspiritual beings of a mere physicality, but that living spiritually and intimately connected to our Redeeming Creator takes place through our physical bodies that are controlled by our brain. Some people have a hard time with this idea, but it makes perfect sense that the Love that created the physical world would have us function on fully physical level. The key is understanding that there is no disconnect between our physical bodies and our spiritual ones, just our fallen bodies and resurrected ones. That was a divergence I did not intend, but it may prove helpful.

So, transitioning poorly to some specifics, how does the brain function and how does that give us insight into our seeming inability to change? Neurons are the tiny cells which make up the brain. They “fire” and the variations of which neurons fire and their firing patterns determines what we “think” in our brain. This is a gross oversimplification, but hopefully will do the trick. The more that we use particular neurons and neuron firing patterns, the more myelinated (covered with fat) the neurons become. This fatty insulation functions to improve the speed and efficiency of the neuron firing. It becomes “easier” for neurons with more myelination to fire than those with less. The more often a neuron fires, the easier it becomes for the neuron to fire, and so the more likely it is to fire next time. Information travels through the easiest path possible.

I think the best way to explain how this works is to talk about how it functions in real life experiences. I’ll go back to my high school days and to an issue that seemed impossible for me to change. Early on in my high school years, I started masturbating and later started looking at porn. It began as an almost an experiment with my body, but once you pop… Because of all of the hormonal stuff going on in my body at the time, the way that I processed visual information was different than I did in middle school. The chemical responses of my brain were such that it was now much more easy for visual information involving females and their bodies was now firing neurons of sexual desire, which fired to thoughts of sexual release, which sent information for erection, which then focused my brain on how to satisfy these neuronal and chemical desires of my body, which led to porn and masturbation.

It’s not that I had to do this, but I did it and I kept doing it. And it felt inevitable. It felt like I couldn’t not do it. I didn’t want to do it, but I was completely overwhelmed. The more I did it, the stronger those connections became and the easier it was for information to be passed through these same routes that led to the behavior I did not want. And, man, I did not want it. The vast majority of the time I was set on not masturbating or looking at porn, but when circumstances were right I seemed to have found myself doing just that almost every time. It was just plain silly. It felt unavoidable. And the experience itself makes a lot more sense to me in light of some basic ideas in neuroscience.


When I turned 17 my plan for dealing with it was to jam my schedule as full as possible from morning to night. I focused in on what I was doing and nothing else. It was comparably effective, but it was not a real solution and it didn’t actually solve the problem, merely decreased its frequency. Halfway between 17 and 18 I started experimenting with Jesus. I wanted to see if He was legit, a figment of the imagination, a ticket to heaven, or just a way to belong to some group of people. So, I just started praying and reading the Bible everyday, just to see. Turns out, he was legit (too legit to quit… smoking). Not too legit to help me quit porn and masturbation though.

I memorized a bunch of verses and I started praying without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). There’s not magic in memorizing verses and if you don’t really want to change, prayer doesn’t do anything. Here’s what I did. Every time visual information like cleavage, short shorts, memories of this stuff, or a desire to think about women sexually popped into my head, I would recite scripture and I would pray and ask God to help me not to think about that stuff and would focus on talking to Him and thinking about His word. I used lustful thoughts and desires as an impetus for focusing on God. I focused so much mental thought on being aware of God and the way I wanted to live, and thus I was aware when something entered my mind that contradicted that. And guess what happened?

I rerouted the path through which information traveled in my brain. Over time, as I kept using information that used to result in lustful cogitations and emotions as an impetus to think about God, who He is, and how I am to and want to live in this world He created. At the neuronal level, it was easier for information to travel down one particular path yielding a particular set of thoughts and behaviors, but my active mind forced the information to process differently. Because of deliberate cognitive activity, the easiest path for lust related information to follow led directly to Jesus. And it worked. Something that was a weekly (minimum) issue for me over three years, became something that was a problem a handful of times over 8 years.

Do you see the application of my specific deal here? The way we have responded to things typically and habitually will be the way that we will most easily, most naturally, and most likely respond to those particular things in the future… but we don’t have to. If we don’t like the way we live, we can live different, and it doesn’t have to feel impossibly hard forever. It might just be hard for a while, but our minds can be reprogrammed to process information differently. And after continual training, our neurons will become more efficient and fire in a pattern that leads to the results we want, and it will feel natural and easy to be exactly the people we want to be. Our brains are designed to become really good and efficient at doing what we want them to do. It just might take some work to get them to adjust.

Categories: Miscellaneous

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