In 1949, Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, wrote what has become known as Hebb’s axiom: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Each experience we encounter, whether a feeling, a thought, a sensation—and especially those that we are not aware of—is embedded in thousands of neurons that form a network (“net”). Repeated experiences become increasingly embedded in this net, making it easier for the neurons to fire (respond to the experience), and more difficult to unwire or rewire them to respond differently.
This is a good thing when learning the name of a new acquaintance—the net helps us to remember; but not so good when being yelled at repeatedly as a child—the net also remembers this, and has a difficult time knowing how to respond later in life when someone raises their voice with us. Renewing our minds is all about creating new, healthy nets that fire together so they can wire together.
Curt Thompson, M.D. is the founder of Being Known and the author of Anatomy of the Soul. He is a clinical psychiatrist in private practice just outside Washington, D.C. — in Falls Church, VA.