Neuroplasticity: Rewire Your Brain
Welcome to the world of neuroplasticity, my friend.
To put it simply, neuroplasticity is the idea that you can rewire your brain for the better by introducing your neurons to certain stimulating activities.
Neuroplasticity can help you to break away from old habits, deal with trauma , prevent and ease neurodegenerative diseases, and generally improve your cognitive function. Sound good? Thats because it is!
Can Mindfulness Rewire Our Brains
One of the most revolutionary and empowering insights coming from cutting-edge neuroscience is the fact that we can change our brains by thinking different thoughts. In her enlightening book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, Sharon Begley explains that the paradigm in the scientific community for the past few centuries is that the brain is essentially fixed, hardwired, unchangeable. This view was summed up by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Spanish neuroanatomist, when he said, “In the adult centers the nerve paths are something fixed, ended and immutable.” In other words, “the circuits of the living brain are unchanging, its structures and organizations almost as static and stationary as a deathly white cadaver floating in a vat of formaldehyde,” as Begley summarized.
But study after study is changing this view to fit the facts. As Begley reports,
In other words, it’s not just that thinking positive thoughts helps us to feel better and have a better attitude. Positive, productive thinking can actually change the biological structure of our brains. Amazing! Begley continues:
Brain changes can be generated by pure mental activity … Something as seemingly insubstantial as thought has the ability to act back on the very stuff of the brain, altering neuronal connections in a way that can lead to recovery from mental illness and perhaps to a greater capacity for empathy and compassion.
Schwartz also said:
The Why And How It All Started
Dr Cobus Oosthuizen is a PhD in Mentoring & Human Development, and for over 13 years hes studied the brain and how it affects human behaviour. Hes built an accredited NGO that teaches individuals self-development skills while doing amazing work among the most at-risk people in the communities of the Cape Flats more on that at LifeXchange Community.
More recently, he headed up the team that developed the neuromanagement and strenghts-based programmes that empower businesses with the latest neuroscience insights for awesome growth through LifeXchanges business solutions.
And, simply put, rewiring his brain to complete this extreme desert race was how he set out to prove that the science and principles behind everything LifeXchange does, really works.
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Alexa Google And Smartphones
The more we rely on our devices to recall information, the more we need themits called cognitive offloading. In one study, participants who previously used the Internet to gain information were significantly more likely to revert to Google for subsequent questions than those who tapped into their own memory. Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we dont bother, says study author Benjamin Storm, PhD an associate professor of psychology at UC Santa Cruz in a news release.
The Architecture Of The Brain
The brain is formed by around a hundred billion nerve cells called;neurons;and other support cells like;neuroglial cells;. These neurons are clustered in;modules, which are the common parts of the brain that we all have heard about at some point of our lives: the;cortex, the;lobes;and the;subcortical.
“The lobes are the;frontal;lobe, the;parietal;lobe, the;temporal;lobe, and the;occipital;lobe. The frontal lobe represents 20% of our brain, and it is the last part of our brain to mature. It is where the famous prefrontal cortex lies.”
We could mention other parts of the brain architecture, but this would mean we dive into details that are too complex for the main point we want to make in this essay. However, we do recommend you continue reading and investigating on this topic if you find it interesting.
There are a hundred billion neurons that want to;connect;and work together within all these parts of the brain. The way neurons work is that it is both part chemistry and electrical impulses via;neurotransmitters;across;synapses.
;Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that serve to transmit messages between neurons . Some of them you may have already heard of, like dopamine, serotonin or GABA, for example. Synapses are small gaps at the end of neurons that allow a signal to pass from one neuron to the next .
Synapses are changing all the time, and what is commonly known as neuroplasticity is referred to the plasticity of synapses .
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Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together
- Neurons that fire at the same time repeatedly wire together through chemical changes that occur in both to create a bond making them connect more strongly
- Neurons that fire apart wire apart
- Neurons out of sync fail to link
- Brain maps work by spatially grouping together events that happen together
- Brain maps will grow as the skill is being learned
- After many repetitions, the skill is learned
- It takes fewer neurons within the area to perform the task
- The neurons became faster and more efficient, requiring less to keep the skill functioning
The adult brain is much more changeable and modifiable than had previously been believed. There is now a large amount of evidence to show that damaged neural circuitry resulting from severe childhood trauma can be corrected, reshaping our brain anatomy and consequent behavior, with the right kind of therapeutic interventions. In other words, it is now clear that brain architecture continues to change throughout adulthood, and this can be manipulated in highly beneficial directions.
Many people who suffer extreme childhood trauma go on to develop personality disorders as adults; one hallmark of these disorders is rigid, destructive behavioral patterns. Research is now showing, however, that certain therapeutic interventions, due to neuroplasticity , can change those behaviors to become more flexible and adaptive .
Rewire Your Brain To Lose The Weight Of Anxiety
Neuroscientific research indicates that some degree of anxiety is normal and even optimal for neuroplasticity. After all, fight or flight is necessary at times. Still, too much or too little anxiety is not helpful. Many scientists, including researcher John B. Arden, Ph. D, author of, Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life, note that it is possible to tap into your own parasympathetic nervous system in an effort to calm yourself down.
The key to managing anxiety? Confront it and make it useful for you.
Essentially, it is important to engage your thoughts and challenge your automatic responses to people so that new neural pathways begin retraining your brain.
Do something daily to reduce stress. Regular breathing exercises throughout the day. Get outside for a walk. Practice prayer or meditation.
Ask yourself questions regarding the reality of your perceptions. Are you unsafe? Or do you feel unsafe? Noting the difference when you feel anxious can help.
Face your fears rather than avoiding them. Go out of your way to make eye contact, connect, and push past the fear of doing so.
The research says this will help strengthen your vagus nerve, thereby improving vagal tone. This is a neural network that soothes the stress response so that you can calm down, accurately read a situation, and connect with other people safely.
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Take Time To Write And Reflect
Journaling has proven to have many benefits for mental health. A;new study;showed that people who took twenty minutes to write about a positive experience saw a dramatic improvement in their happiness.
You dont have to be a writer nor do you even have to write down words. You can scribble, doodle, automatic write, jot down random words whatever comes to your mind. You just have to have an intention and put something down on paper.
I highly recommend getting a;Get Happy Stay Happy journal.;We had them in one of our subscription boxes for anxiety, and warriors just like you absolutely loved the journal.
The 10 Fundamentals Of Rewiring Your Brain
Neuroplasticity has become a buzzword in psychology and scientific circles, as well as outside of them, promising that you can “re-wire” your brain to improve everything from health and mental wellbeing to quality of life. There’s a lot of conflicting, misleading, and erroneous information out there.
What Is Neuroplasticity ?
Just in case you’ve managed to miss all the hype, neuroplasticity is an umbrella term referring to the ability of your brain to reorganize itself, both physically and functionally, throughout your life due to your environment, behavior, thinking, and emotions. The concept of neuroplasticity isn’t new and mentions of a malleable brain go all of the way back to the 1800s. With the relatively new capability to “see” into the brain allowed by functional magnetic resonance imaging , science has confirmed the incredible morphing ability of the brain beyond a doubt.
The concept of a changing brain has replaced the formerly held belief that the adult brain was pretty much a physiologically static organ or hard-wired, after critical developmental periods in childhood. While it’s true that your brain is much more plastic during the early years and capacity declines with age, plasticity happens all throughout your life.
How Neuroplasticity Shows Up In Your Life
It was also because of neuroplastic change that I became entrenched in depressive, anxious, obsessive, and over-reactive patterns in the first place.
Ten Fundamentals Of Neuroplasticity
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Focus Concentration And Distraction
As mentioned above, to learn something new, adopt a habit and have our brain change its structure to be more efficient at performing it, we first need to focus.
Focus requires all our attention. Our modern-day workplaces and environments are designed for anything but focus and concentration. And this affects our capacity to adapt and learn proficiently.;
We have written before that multitasking is a myth in our;The Dangers of Attention Residue;essay. In it, we showed that attention residue is the side-effect of multitasking: thoughts about a previous task persist and intrude whilst performing our current job.
Attention residue means we are driving a car with the handbrake on, needing to press the gas peal way harder to move a vehicle at the same speed without a break on would.
The solution to attention residue was to modify our distraction-prone environments and reduce the distractions to a minimum, thus allowing to enter flow state and deep work.
The reason we mention all of this is because deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, and it is the first step towards rewiring our brain.
Attention activates our frontal lobes , and they play an important role in the brain adapting, as it helps direct the resources that are important .
Ways To Rewire Your Brain After Trauma
But the brain is an amazing organ and can actually changeeven later in life! You can learn to rewire your brain in a way that strengthens and engages the PFC to get the amygdala under better control, so when something happens your response is more congruent with your current circumstances, and less a reaction to emotions from past traumas.;
An important way to do this is by strengthening your PFC which then lets you tap into more thoughtful responses to triggers. The simplest way is with brain-healthy lifestyle choices that increase activity in the PFC and help regulate the amygdala.;
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Can I Rewire My Brain
As part of our Ask the Brain series, Halie Olson, a graduate student in the labs of John Gabrieli and Rebecca Saxe, pens her answer to the question,Can I rewire my brain?
Yes, kind of, sometimes it all depends on what you mean by rewiring the brain.
If youre asking whether you can remove all memories of your ex from your head, then no. However, if youre asking whether you can teach a dog new tricks that have a physical implementation in the brain then yes.
To embrace the analogy that rewiring alludes to, lets imagine you live in an old house with outlets in less-than-optimal locations. You really want your brand-new TV to be plugged in on the far side of the living room, but there is no outlet to be found. So you call up your electrician, she pops over, and moves some wires around in the living room wall to give you a new outlet. No sweat!
Plasticity in our brain allows us to learn, adjust, and thrive in our environments.
Now, lets say that you wake up in the middle of the night with a desire to move your oven and stovetop from the kitchen into your swanky new living room with the TV. You call up your electrician she tells you this is impossible, and to stop calling her in the middle of the night.
Plasticity in our brain allows us to learn, adjust, and thrive in our environments. It also gives neuroscientists like me something to study since clearly I would fail as an electrician.
Learning A New Language
This works in a similar way to learning a musical instrument – recognising sound patterns that go along with visual patterns. Studies have shown that learning a new language not only improves memory function and pattern recognition but also reduces your chances of dementia.
Learning a new language also improves your ability to pick out relevant information and to filter out pointless stimuli. And youll be able to have a conversation with someone in their native language which is a nice treat. Muy bueno indeed.
If youre completely new to a language, try downloading an app such as Duolingo. Its a great app for filling up bits of spare time you have on the bus and its completely free. Its also a great replacement for scrolling through social media; 15 minutes of Duolingo will make you feel a lot better than 15 minutes of Facebook.
If you can already speak a little of your chosen language, try and find someone to practice with. There are plenty of forums;and groups that can be found online where people want to meet up and practice speaking different languages with native speakers. You might meet up with a Spanish person for an hour and spend half an hour speaking English, and the next half speaking Spanish!
If you can already speak another language but havent practised in a while, there are a couple of things you can do to spark your bilingual brain:
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Do A Random Act Of Kindness 5 Times A Week
Doing something kind for someone 5 times a week can dramatically improve your happiness. It can be as simple as holding the door open for a stranger, paying for someones coffee, buying a homeless person a meal, or writing a thank you note to someone. Get creative and do it five times a week and you can start to rewire your brain to be more positive.
A group of Stanford students did this RAOK exercise and to no surprise, they all reported significantly higher happiness levels.
Rewire Your Brain To Enjoy A Life Of Gratitude
In 2009, the National Institutes of Health released a study indicating that the region of our brains called the hypothalamus swings into action when we feel gratitude, or behave kindly. Why is that a big deal? Because the hypothalamus is a big deal. It regulates appetite, sleep patterns, body temperature, metabolism, and growth, among other bodily functions. So this research seems to reveal that gratitude is integral to our happiness. In fact, we really cant function well without it.
That really is a big deal.
Research shows too, that gratitude is addictivein a good way. Both performing acts of kindness and experiencing true gratitude releases dopamine, helping to form strong neural pathways and motivate us to seek out that natural high again and again by giving thanks and doing good things for others.
Its also then that the mirror neuron system comes into play again, as it is the part of the brain involved in mindfulness prayer and meditation. Those practices, used for periods of grateful reflection, help rewire the brain for calm and focus, thus promoting better health and deeper connections with other people.
If youre ready for real change, develop a new mindful attitude of gratefulness, step outside your routine to serve others in community with a supportive group of people, and look into ways that develop new body-based responses to stress.
Im Liz Miller, a counselor in private practice in Moscow, Idaho.
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Applying Neuroscience To Achieve Peak Performance
Throughout many essays, we at Selfmastered have teased with the idea of rewiring our brains. For this essay, we have dived deeper into how our brain works, to add the biological and scientific background to many of the ideas that we write about.
Our brain has a hundred billion neurons. Neurons that communicate via neurotransmitters and form pathways and networks like a country form a road system to connect each city.
The roads that get used the most are reinforced with each use, whilst those who are used less will deteriorate and cease to exist. Similar to how muscles work when we are looking to train them at the gym.
The idea that our brains and neural pathways are not rigid, but plastic is fairly new. This means that there is a lot of misconceptions about neuroplasticity and rewiring your brainsome, mainly caused by their use as marketing gimmicks.
The truth behind neuroplasticity is that our brain adapts to our development of habits and skills as we become more skilled and proficient at them, becoming more efficient at performing said tasks.
To correctly modify our pathways and connect neurons in ways previously not connected, we undergo the standard system of developing habits and skills: focusing on the first, applying effort at learning them until they become effortless, and then maintain the practice.