Neuron Pathways are links made between neurons (nerve cells) that allow information to travel across them more readily. The thicker the connection between the neurons the better memory recall of information and the stronger the habits.
New neuron pathways are always created every time you experience something new, unique or different.
For instance, when you learn something new neurons within your brain will send electrical messengers down the axons to the soma, which is the cell’s center. This message is then routed to a group of connected dendrites, which then release a chemical messenger to the new target group of neurons that are located next to it.
Every single time you go over that same subject while learning, the neural pathways become stronger. They effectively become stronger every time they are used, thereby allowing you to form long-lasting connections and memories. This is a process of neuroplasticity that takes place in the brain while learning.
Neural pathways have evolved over evolutionary history for survival purposes to help us learn from our experiences. For instance, a child burns their finger on a stove. As a result a new neuron pathway is formed in the brain that gets associated with extreme pain. The child therefore now understands that touching the stove will lead to intense pain as a result of the new neural pathways that were formed.
Neural pathways form strong habits over time whenever you repeat the same thoughts or behaviors. These habits can of course have an empowering or limiting nature. Either way they are difficult to break because of the strong connections formed between neurons.
In order to break a habit, you effectively need to build a new set of neuron pathways. What this essentially means is that you effectively need to develop a new habit that replaces the old habit that you no longer want to indulge in. For instance, it will be difficult for you to give up smoking without going through the process of replacing your “smoking” habit with a healthier habit such as the habit of chewing gum. Initially it will be difficult to make this change as the smoking pathways are much stronger. However, over a period of time with a great deal of willpower and self-discipline; if you are able to persist with choosing to chew gum instead of smoking, then the chewing gum pathways will develop and strengthen. At the same time neural pathways that aren’t being used regularly diminish in strength. Therefore as a result your new chewing gum habit will eventually become the preferred choice.
This is all very much akin to coming across two paths in the woods leading to your holiday cabin. One path is a path that is constantly in use and therefore is relatively free of shrubs and overgrown bushes. While the other path is rarely used and is completely overgrown with vegetation. In other words, the first path is an established habit, while the second path (overgrown with vegetation) is almost a non-existent habit that isn’t being used.
Let’s now say that you decide to start using the second (overgrown) path instead of the first path. Initially on your first walkthrough it will take some effort to make your way up this path. With all the overgrown vegetation it can certainly be challenging. However, over many days, weeks and months of walking along this path it becomes easier as you are effectively able to clear the vegetation from the path and flatten the long grass with the force of your feet. At the same time, because the first path isn’t being used it now gets overgrown with vegetation, long grass and shrubs. This path therefore now becomes difficult to manoeuvre through.
This is an example of how a new habit is formed over a period of time. However, this of course would not be possible if you continued to use the first path and only sporadically used the second path. You must completely abstain from using the first path and allow it to overgrow with vegetation. At the same time you must use the second path as often as possible in order to develop the new habit while leaving the old habit in the dust. 🙂