How Do Neuronal Networks Work?

by Whitney James, M.D.

As adults, we can get hardened in our ways. A series of life experiences, some rewarding and some painful, can corner us into daily routines, jobs and ways of responding to the world around us.

When talking with patients, I explain that the brain is analogous to a house filled with fancy electrical wiring. The electrical wires are made up of axons, the “wire” component of each neuron, or brain cell. The rooms of the house are forms of awareness and perception.

Just like electrical wiring, those wires that are thick and well-insulated will more efficiently light up the room they supply. Thin wires without insulation will not work as well.

Every human brain has a “default mode network,” or a system of neuronal wiring we default to in our day-to-day lives. These are networks of neurons thickly insulated and highly efficient. When energy hits the system (the brain), it flows down the paths of least resistance: the well-insulated default networks. These default networks only illuminate certain rooms in our house. 

Consequently, we may have lived our whole lives up to this point thinking we only have a living room and bedroom, when we also have an amazing kitchen, game room and backyard.

Each of us has the ability to activate new neuronal networks.

We recommend starting with an awareness of your breath. When we become aware of our breath, we are able to better recognize our default networks. After recognizing our default networks, we can then explore neuronal networks beyond them. While remaining aware of how you are breathing, attempt a new skill, learn about something that piques your interest, take a different route to work, practice putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes and seeing the world through their eyes. Practice seeing yourself in a new and positive light.

As we practice these new ways of doing and seeing things, the new neuronal networks will gain insulation. New networks can eventually become new defaults.

We begin to realize we are not who we used to think we were. We are, and can be, so much more.