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“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This is true about most dogs. Take it from me; I’ve trained hunting dogs, and after two years, most dogs can’t learn new tricks. We’ve all heard the saying as it relates to adults, and our tendency to become entrenched in our thinking, in our lifestyle, and in our habits.

But neurologists who study the brain are now saying that it is possible to retrain our brain to think differently. In other words, there is a growing field of research that shows that you can train an adult, even an older adult, new tricks.

Popular neuroscience books have made much in recent years of the emerging possibilities that the adult brain is capable of restoring lost function or even enhancing cognition through sustained mental or physical activities.

Neuroplasticity of the Brain

Dr. Alex Dranovsky and Dr. Shawn Achor have written extensively on the fact that we can retrain our mind. Research has shown that the brain has the ability to form new neural connections throughout a person’s life. This capacity, called neuroplasticity, has wide-ranging implications for everything from intellectual growth to recovering from brain damage.

What we are discovering is that our brain works like a muscle. It gets stronger with training. For example, when a person learns a new skill and uses it often, he/she is working the part of the brain relevant to that skill. As the person develops the skill, the brain grows and becomes healthier.

Happiness and Joy

There are also ways to train the part of the brain related to happiness and joy, both in the moment and in the long run. The Apostle Paul was well ahead of his time, as he penned these words to the adult Christians in Rome,

“…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

To “renew” is “to renovate,” implying a restoration to freshness or to an original state. It intimates, not unlike some of the current studies, the unrealized potential of the brain. But Paul is talking about the power of redemption, the recovery of the many potentialities of the human mind as it was designed before the Fall.

Being “transformed” by the renewal of the mind indicates a literal “change in the form or formulas of thought or being.” This describes the power we have as God’s image bearers and those filled with the Holy Spirit, to change our life through changing our thoughts. We can transform our purposes, which proceed to dictate our actions, and thus, our actions become character-determining habits, shaping the life and setting the course for the future. (Jack Hayford)

Pathways to Happiness and Joy

As we enter 2021, what are some of the paths or habits we must develop to train our minds toward the happiness and joy of being in God’s will? Let me give you three things that Liz and I have found to be the most important in our life:

  1. Liz and I begin each day reading God’s Word, the Bible, talking about what we’re learning, and thinking deeply on the promises of God.
  2. We write down what God is saying to us. We always take time to jot down the truths God is showing us and apply them to our lives.
  3. We all need positive people in our lives. Liz and I have made it a habit of connecting with life-giving (not joy-sucking) people who have our vision and values for their lives. They give us positive energy, and it renews our minds each day.

I hope this is helpful. With all the negative news out there and with all the worries we can carry concerning our nation, may I encourage you to take your thoughts captive, renew your mind, and watch just how joyful and happy you can be in the new year!

Happy in 2021,

Pastor Steve