I first heard the term “neuroplasticity” in a commercial for an app that would ostensibly keep my brain firing on all cylinders.
The concept of keeping our minds engaged in middle age and beyond is nothing new. But what is neuroplasticity? Would I be stretching my synapses like rubber bands to exercise them?
What if something snapped? I wondered how many of my brain cells had already gone – probably many, if you listen to my kids.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is a term given to something we already know about. Our brains have the ability to rewire themselves. If there’s an injury or illness, our brains can create alternate pathways to assist in regaining lost function.
A new piece of information that I discovered was that our brains also “prune” connections that are no longer useful. In this article we’re going to look at the psychological benefits of neuroplasticity.
Most of our emotions originate in the amygdala, and our ability to translate those emotions comes primarily from the prefrontal cortex. The neural pathways between them, along with brain chemistry, constitute the links between thought, emotion, and behavior.
Our behavior, experiences, thought processes, and emotions all create these neural pathways.
Childhood trauma, real or imagined, creates pathways that get used again and again over time as similar experiences, thoughts, or emotions occur.
They become knee-jerk, go-to responses for us since they’re hard-wired. Part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to dig into the messages our subconscious minds are sending – when you make a mistake at work, for example, there might be an underlying feeling of, “I stink at my job!” or “I’m a bad worker.”
Those thoughts and emotions originate from a neural pathway created in your brain after previous experience. There has been an actual, physical change in your brain that stimulates a response.
These changes can be slow in developing or happen more rapidly. The more often a particular thought or feeling occurs, the faster and stronger the neural pathways develop.
What can we do to create new neural pathways that improve us, instead of being bound to the old, negative processes?
Here are a few ways you can use neuroplasticity for personal enrichment:
1. Meditate: MRIs have been done of individuals meditating that display the creation of new neural pathways between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
When we’re meditating, we’re putting our busy minds in neutral and focusing on what is around us in the here and now. We can use these new neural pathways to change our responses to stress. Meditation has been useful in treating anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
2. Be Mindful: By learning to focus on the present moment – the here and now – we put away the worries of what has happened in the past and might or may not happen in the future.
In addition, learn to find something amazing or wondrous in what your environment holds. While driving to work, for example, notice the clouds, trees, birds chirping, or the beauty of snow and rain.
Be amazed by the technology that enables you to travel faster than you can move on your own. Find wonder in the things you didn’t notice before, and observe them as though you had never been there. Mindfulness is a key technique for managing ADD/ADHD.
3. Discover Gratitude: Keep a Gratitude Journal of all the little things we take for granted, as well as everyday miracles and big wins.
Find gratitude for the negative events and situations that have taught us valuable lessons, or shown us the strength we have to endure them.
4. Use Positive Affirmations and Monitor your Self-Talk: Instead of thinking, “I hate doing this chore!” or, “This is a terrible situation!” think instead, “I get to do this chore so the job gets done,” or, “There must be some lesson I can learn from this.”
Base affirmations on real events so you’re using newly created neural pathways. Create situations in which you’re achieving, then use those events as affirmations.
For example, if you’re a sales rep having difficulty closing deals, practice your closing in front of a mirror. When you nail it, pat yourself on the back and say, “See? I CAN do it!”
Every time you have a positive result, reinforce that affirmation. “Yes! I did it again! I’m getting good at this!” If your self-talk includes things like, “I’m not a good person,” do little things such as holding the door open for others, smiling at strangers, or picking up trash you didn’t drop. Your affirmation can now be, “I am a good person! I did these kind, thoughtful things.”
Developing new, beneficial neural pathways in the brain takes practice and time. When we get a new car, suddenly we notice all the other new cars on the road just like ours.
The same factor applies to our new neural pathways: As we learn new behaviors and attitudes, we begin to recognize them – they feel familiar – and we start to notice other positive responses. Use neuroplasticity to change your perspective on life.
Read Next: How To Improve Memory?
To discover more on using neuroplasticity to manage daily stress, set and achieve goals, and transform your life experience, please visit www.thequietzonecoaching.com.