Every minute of every day, your brain is literally changing its physical form and function in response to your experiences, behaviors, and even your thoughts through a process known as neuroplasticity. Now, think about that for just a minute.
Constantly worrying about the bills. Criticizing yourself relentlessly for a mistake you made at work. Bingeing on Netflix and junk food most nights to de-stress. Replaying painful memories of a break-up over and over in your head. Checking your phone as soon as it dings. Whether you know it or not, these things are changing the neuronal pathways in your brain. What you do repeatedly — both good and bad — literally gets wired into the structure of your brain. This can help you or hurt you.
A lot of the time neuroplastic change is happening below your conscious awareness in ways that don’t benefit you. It’s because of neuroplasticity that addictions and some major brain illnesses and conditions show up in humans. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive and phobic behaviors, epilepsy, and more occur because of neuroplastic changes in the brain. However, neuroplasticity also allows all learning and memory and recovery from brain damage, injury, addictions, and many mental health conditions. And if you intentionally guide neuroplastic change, you can improve your brain and life.
You are changing your brain every day anyway. Why not intentionally use neuroplasticity to help you?
What Exactly Is Neuroplasticity?
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. Science used to believe that the brain only changed significantly during critical periods in childhood. While it is true that the brain is much more plastic in youth and capacity declines with age, plasticity happens from birth until death.
Harnessing neuroplasticity as an adult does require a little extra effort and specific circumstances, but it can be done. What you pay attention to, what you think, feel, and want, and how you react and behave all physically shape your brain. The point is you can intentionally change your brain.
Neuroplasticity has possible implications for every aspect of human nature and culture including medicine, psychiatry, psychology, relationships, education, and more. Where it stands to have the most potential is for the individual in their own life. Because you can learn to consciously control your thinking, reactions, and behavior, and some of the experiences you have, you can oversee your own “self-directed neuroplasticity” and invite change and healing into your life. We have grossly underestimated how our minds and brains can help us and the huge role they play in shaping our lives and realities.
Four Ways to Use Your Mind to Change Your Brain
How to Use Your Mind to Change Your Brain to Decrease Depression & Anxiety
It’s because of neuroplasticity that depression and anxiety become established patterns in your brain in the first place. Negative mental states become negative neural traits. Cruelly enough, these mental conditions reinforce themselves. Your brain is a feedback loop. The same neuroplasticity also allows you to use your mind to interrupt the loop and establish new patterns in your brain to overcome the conditions.
Research shows self-directed neuroplasticity can make positive changes in your brain, but it’s not immediate or effortless and requires motivation, intention, and persistence. Most neuroplastic change is incremental, not dramatic. Because neuroplasticity occurs for whatever’s in your field of focused awareness, your attention is like a vacuum cleaner, sucking its contents into your brain. Directing your attention purposefully allows you to shape your brain and life over time. Read more
Four Steps to Take Control Of Your Mind and Change Your Brain
In the 1990s, Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D., a research psychiatrist, combined his interest in Buddhist philosophy with his nueroatonomy research and came up with a Four Step method for successfully altering the behavior of persons with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The Four Step program has become the established treatment for OCD and has been verified to physically change brains in studies using brain scans.
The good news is that you can use the thought reframing process to retrain your brain to eliminate mild to moderate unwanted, unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. When symptoms are severe and debilitating, people might not be able to focus their attention enough and would benefit from the method as part of a structured, professional therapy program. Read more
How Your Neurons Make You a Nervous Wreck (and how to rewire them)
Your brain learns, through a process called conditioning, to continually adapt your behavior in an attempt to be better suited to survive in its environment. In classical conditioning, your brain learns to associate two stimuli, such as in Pavlov’s well-known experiments with dogs. In the second kind of learning, operant conditioning, your brain learns to associate your behavior with consequences, good or bad. When it is followed by a reinforcing reward, the behavior is strengthened. When followed by a negative reward, it’s diminished.
In everyday life, you are continually being conditioned in both ways, and as you learn, your behaviors are reinforced, shaped, and refined by your environment and simultaneously influenced by your thoughts, feelings, and memories. Your brain changes as a result. Your brain learns to be over-anxious, but the good news is that it can unlearn in the same way. Read more
How to Use Your Attention to Rewire Your Brain
Directing your attention is the answer to calming a busy brain that jumps around from one anxiety-inducing thought to another. Bringing your attention back into the present can immediately stop your brain from ruminating about painful memories. Being able to direct and sustain your attention to a specific desired place is the foundation of changing your brain through experience-dependent neuroplasticity.
Your happiness, baseline disposition, how you respond to the world, interact in relationships, think of and talk to yourself is largely determined by your subconscious. Implicit memories from your childhood and past, which are below your conscious awareness and cannot easily be measured or retrieved, primarily make up your brain’s subconscious material. In order to change your subconscious chatter, you have to change your brain’s default pattern of operation. Luckily, you already have everything you need to do that. You sculpt your brain with your attention Read more