Neuroscience has confirmed that your brain changes throughout your life, a concept known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term for a sequence of processes taking place in your brain over time in response to incoming stimuli. Your experiences, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions physically change the form and function of your brain. In other words,
It used to be believed that neuroplasticity only occurred during critical periods in childhood. While it’s true that plastic change happens much easier in childhood, your brain is capable of making alterations until the day you die. Harnessing the process of neuroplasticity in adulthood isn’t quite as simple as some of the neuro-hype would have us think, but it can be accomplished under specific circumstances.
Putting Neuroplasticity To Work For You
Neuroplasticity has allowed people who have had strokes and brain trauma to recover functionality. Because of neuroplasticity, congenitally blind people’s brains have figured out new ways to see, and children with cerebral palsy have learned to move more fluidly. People with autism have made cognitive strides once thought impossible, because of the ability of their brains to rewire themselves. Neuroplasticity has also been used successfully to ease chronic pain. The examples go on and on.
Because of neuroplasticity, your habits, thought patterns, and ways of reacting to the world –- good and bad –- get etched into your brain. Worrying about finances. Catastrophizing about that mistake at work that botched the sale. Having a stiff drink to unwind at the end of the day. Replaying the painful memories of your friend’s illness and death over and over. Smoking cigarettes. Getting an internet porn fix.
Whether you want to call them habits or addictions, your regular activities literally get wired into your brain.
I leveraged neuroplasticity to recover from a serious brain injury, the result of a suicide attempt. (Read my story) Over years, I rewired my brain, through exercise, mental health tools, meditation, visualization, and mindfulness practices, to think more positively, be more resilient, and stay consistently calm and happy.
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 person, in their 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.
Quotes From The Experts About Neuroplasticity
Here’s what some of the top brain experts have to say about neuroplasticity: how your life shapes your brain and how your brain shapes your life.
All the experiences in your life — from single conversations to your broader culture — shape the microscopic details of your brain. Neurally speaking, who you are depends on where you’ve been. Your brain is a relentless shape-shifter, constantly rewriting its own circuitry — and because your experiences are unique, so are the vast detailed patterns in your neural networks. Because they continue to change your whole life, your identity is a moving target; it never reaches an end point.
David Eagleman, neuroscientist – The Brain: The Story of You
… the very structure of our brain — the relative size of different regions, the strength of connections between one area and another — reflects the lives we have led. Like sand on a beach, the brain bears the footprints of the decisions we have made , the skills we have learned, the actions we have taken.
Your brain is involved in everything you do. Your brain controls everything you do, feel, and think. When you look in the mirror, you can thank your brain for what you see. Ultimately, it is your brain that determines whether your belly bulges over your belt buckle or your waistline is trim and toned. Your brain plays the central role in whether your skin looks fresh and dewy or is etched with wrinkles. Whether you wake up feeling energetic or groggy depends on your brain. When you head to the kitchen to make breakfast, it is your brain that determines whether you go for the leftover pizza or the low-fat yogurt and fruit. Your brain controls whether you hit the gym or sit at the computer to check your Facebook page. If you feel the need to light up a cigarette or drink a couple of cups of java, that’s also your brain’s doing.
…we can actually use the mind to change the brain . The simple truth is that how we focus our attention, how we intentionally direct the flow of energy and information through our neural circuits, can directly alter the brain’s activity and its structure. The key is to know the steps toward using our awareness in ways that promote well-being.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D. – Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
The idea that the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity is, I believe, the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy and the workings of its basic component, the neuron.
We are in the early stages of a Brain Plasticity Revolution. That revolution begins with a clearer understanding that the brain’s machinery is being continually rewired and functionally revised , substantially under your control, throughout the course of your natural life. You have a remarkable built-in ability to strengthen and grow the person that you are, at any age.
Michael Merzenich, Ph.D. – Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life
As you go through life, your brain undergoes extraordinary development. Your brain is the most adaptable, modifiable organ in your body, and it can change both positively and negatively by how you use it each day.
Sondra Bond Chapman, Ph.D. – afterword in The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness: How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age by Alvaro Fernandez
We know that what you do with your mind — how you focus your attention, intentionally shape your thoughts and calm your emotions — can directly change your brain. That’s the key to neuroplasticity — how our experiences, including what we do with our minds, change the activity and even the lifelong remodeling of our brains.
Daniel J. Siegel, MD – foreword in The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb
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Clearly, the brain can exert a powerful grip on one’s life — but only if you let it. The good news is that you can overcome the brain’s control and rewire your brain to work for you and by choosing to act in healthy, adaptive ways.