When you change your brain, your mind changes, and when you change your mind, you can change your life. In the past decade, ground-breaking research has revolutionized our understanding of the human brain by proving that the brain is capable of reorganizing both its neurobiological structure as well as function throughout our lifetimes. This process, called neuroplasticity, allows you to harness your brain power to work for you.
The brain is an interconnected network composed of 100 billion specialized cells called neurons, each connected to up to 10,000 more neurons, and passing signals to each other via as many as 1,000 trillion connections called synapsis.
The brain uses this sophisticated structure to process the information we gather through our five senses to accomplish its primary job which is ensuring our survival.
By default, the brain is constantly changing its own physical structure and function. This is known as neuroplasticity; meaning that the brain is flexible and adaptable, and its neural formations and connections reorganize and change in response to how we think, feel, and behave.
Neuroplasticity in Action
The brain structure is completely flexible and changes through our lifetime
This continuous change will happen either beneficially or chaotically
Lasting beneficial change in our thoughts, emotions and behavior occurs only when we intentionally improve our brain function
Brain Structure Changes in Four Steps
Continuous generation of new neurons in brain regions
New skills and experiences build new neural connections
Repetition and practice strengthens neural connections
Connections in the brain that aren’t used get weak and break
THE BRIGHT & DARK SIDES OF NEUROPLASTICITY
- The brain is always learning – what we feed it determines whether it changes in a beneficial or unhelpful direction.
- The brain is neutral – it does not know the difference between good or bad, right or wrong.
- The brain learns whatever is repeated – both helpful and unhelpful thoughts, behaviors, and habits. It then changes its structure and function based on those learnings.
Therefore, neuroplasticity of the brain can strengthen depressive, anxious, obsessive, or over-reactive patterns, or it may reinforce growth, achievement, compassion, and well-being. It all depends on what we feed it.
The brain’s shaping and reshaping process is continuous; we can do it intentionally or it will happen haphazardly. By choosing to consciously play an active role in changing our brain structure through the mind, we can shape it to our own benefit.
This is the notion of self-directed neuroplasticity or self-leadership: deliberately commanding your brain.
Positive neuroplasticity changes the brain structure in four key areas:
- Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) increases in gray matter volume and capacity. This structure, located behind the frontal lobe, is responsible for self-regulatory processes including monitoring attention, conflict and cognitive flexibility. 1
- prefrontal Cortex increases in gray matter volume and capacity. This structure, in areas of the prefrontal lobe, is primarily responsible for executive functioning such as planning, problem solving, and emotional regulation. 2
- Hippocampus a part of the limbic system responsible for our learning and memory, and susceptible to stress and stress-related disorders such as depression or PTSD, also increases in volume and capacity. 3
- Amygdala the brain’s “fight or flight” center, responsible for our fearful, anxious and stressful responses, decreases in gray matter volume. This leads to less tension and reactivity, and therefore improved connection with the prefrontal cortex, where our higher-order thinking takes place. 4
As a result of these changes in the brain’s structure, its function improves allowing us to think more clearly, make better-informed decisions, and improve our essential life skills such as attention, flexibility, planning, problem-solving, resilience, and most importantly well-being.
ACTIVATING POSITIVE NEUROPLASTICITY
The Brain-Mind-Thought Communication
Leading our lives in effective and fulfilling ways depends on how we use our minds. The mind is the doorway to the brain, and we access our minds through our thoughts. Thus, by productively directing our thoughts, since they immediately imprint on the brain, we can influence our mind and improve brain function in profound and lasting ways.
The enhanced brain function leads to a productive mindset which we experience as our ability to learn, grow and the motivation and resilience essential for accomplishing our objectives.
1. Stanford University & Harvard Medical Center Study
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity 3. Ibid 4. Ibid