Don’t Waste Your Basal Ganglia

Please do not waste your basal ganglia. Let me explain why.

How do we know if we are wasting our basal ganglia? Would it not be just coasting through life? Turning off our brain and choosing to live with unredeemed habits that conform to the world and not been re-formed by the Spirit of God? Is it not compartmentalizing life so that the authoritative Word of God cannot confront old habits so that we live a lifestyle of repentance?

 

Have you ever heard of your basal ganglia? Yeah, me neither. But I’m telling you now, and I beg you, please do not waste your basal ganglia. Let me explain why.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about how habits are formed in the brain. There is in our brain a golf-ball size lump of tissue called basal ganglia, which is integral to the formation of habits. Duhigg writes how, in the mid 1990’s MIT researchers began experimenting with rats to determine how the basal ganglia plays a role in the formation of habits as the rats performed dozens of routines. Rats were placed in a maze with a partitioned entrance, and with the sound of a click, the rats wound wander up and down the maze walls, scratching and sniffing, looking for the reward of chocolate. Eventually the rats would find their reward. What researchers discovered during these experiments is that the basal ganglia of rats worked furiously and exploded with activity with each new sight or sound. They discovered that the basal ganglia was the center for processing new data with each new adventure.

As researchers began to place the same rats in the same maze again and again, they witnesses how the rats began to  speed through the maze faster and faster to their reward. The cause of this was an unexpected phenomenon. As the rats began to form new habits, their mental activity decreased incrementally. The routes became more and more automatic to the point that brain activity was no long necessary. The rats were operating on the basis of a new habit. They began thinking less and less until their brain could basically be turned off, and they would habitually go about their routine toward their reward.

Here’s the explanation. During the first several trips around the maze, the rats had to use their brain, especially their basal ganglia, to access all the new information. With every scratch and sniff, the rats were processing and learning their way around. But after time, their familiarity with the routine made it less necessary to use their brain to determine how they were going to function. They were functioning “mindlessly” based on their newly formed habits. Simply, the rats had learned to internalize how to sprint through the maze to a degree that they did not need to think at all. The basal ganglia had become the repository of story habits while the rest of the brain went to sleep, the place where mental activity becomes automated into seamless action.

Now what in the world does rats in a maze and our basal ganglia have to do with the Christian life?

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