Plastic Brain

Plastic Brain

Let’s face it. Whether you like it or not, your brain is constantly changing in response to your environment and your thoughts and feelings. Do you want to simply allow your brain to be “rewired” based on your environment and what others do? Or would you like to have some say in how the rewiring takes place?

Here are 5 simple strategies to consciously and intentionally make use of this unique brain plasticity that we all are blessed with.

1) Get out of your comfort zone.

Challenge yourself to do something new on a regular basis. Just as your physical muscle grows when you carry weights, your brain generates neurons (nerve cells) when it’s challenged. Learning something new, doing something different like finding a new route back home can change the connections of neurons (brain cells) and start the process of creating new neuronal pathways. Try a new hairstyle or listening to a different kind of music. How about a new method of washing dishes!!

2) Repeat, repeat!

It is said that it takes at least 21-30 days to form a habit. This is fairly accurate on a neurological basis as new neural patterns begin to form only after they’ve been repeated enough times. They continue to strengthen with further repetition. Repetition converts one lane pathways into 6-lane neural highways making travel along the pathway as simple ‘auto-pilot’ driving.

For toddlers and children, habits can be formed much faster than the 21-day period for an adult. Why is that? Brain Plasticity is much higher for toddlers and children and hence neural pathways form much faster within their brains.

3) Focused Effort :

Direct your brains to think and feel about something that you want. When you set your goals, start working on them from the inside out. Visualize yourself as achieving them. Send affirming messages to your brain by reading or speaking aloud powerful quotes, by watching related videos, reading books, talking and blogging about it.

Dr. Guang Yue and Dr. Kelly Cole created an experiment to test the physical effects of focused thought on the body (Norman Doidge, The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science).  They took two groups of people and devised a simple exercise for each of them to perform.

Group 1 was instructed to perform 15 finger contractions with twenty second rest intervals, everyday for 4 weeks straight.  Group 2 was told to think about contracting their finger with twenty second rest intervals, everyday for 4 weeks straight.

After the four weeks were complete, Group 1 increased the strength of their one finger by 30%.  The astounding thing was that Group 2, who only focused their thought for the same amount of time, increased their finger strength by 22%.

To your brain, imagination and action are not all that different. The same areas of your brain would light up in MRI scans when you imagine and when you act. So we can use our imagination and our thoughts to build strong neural pathways that makes action much more effortless.

Note: Before you cancel your gym membership after reading this, remember that exercise has other benefits like better blood circulation, better blood flow to the brain and hence better cognition.

4) Emotions – A turbo-charged approach to brain change

With modern imaging technology, scientists can see activity in the brain and have located the seat of emotions in the brain. We, now, know that the strength and number of neural connections associated with a thought or behavior are increased when you’re in a highly emotional state. The neuron connections are also stronger, longer lasting and it takes longer to lose a neural connection when it was formed with great emotion.

Use the power of positive emotions to effectively support your brain change. Deep connections with yourself (reflection, introspection, meditation) and with your environment, your friends and family have the potential to create  experiences that reinforce the positive thought through positive emotions.

5) Watch what you see and hear

Archaic advice but true nevertheless. Every input to the brain via our senses creates a neural network as the brain processes the inputs. Imagine a young girl being bombarded by the media with messages about how hip it is to be skinny. When it comes to thinking about her weight, her brain will choose the path that already exists (being skinny is cool). So help your brain build the neural networks that will benefit you through careful selection of inputs to the brain.

And last but not the least, don’t forget to have fun. Fun and laughter makes any change enjoyable and hence long-lasting. 

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