Neuroplasticity is the process of how the brain can remodel itself to create new pathways or repair itself after injury.
The important thing is that neuroplasticity means that the brain is not entirely hard wired, and in the context of ‘self improvement’ we can use neuroplasticity to our advantage because with it we can change the way we think and with this we can also change the way we feel.
Research using modern medical imaging is now showing which parts of the brain light up when we think in different ways, or about different things. It has also show that the brain can change anatomically (in structure) and physiologically (how it works) with the right type of repeated stimulation of certain neurological pathways this process is neuroplasticity.
An example of neuroplasticity is during the initial critical period of childhood development where a baby’s brain develops its normal anatomical structure due to repeated stimulation from the immediate environment. Neuroplasticity is critical in normal brain development, if for instance the child is born with a squint, the squint may cause the eye to look inwards towards the nose creating a lack of visual stimulation in that eye (as it focuses on the nose and not the external environment), this lack of visual stimulation causes a lack of development of the normal pathways between the eye and the brain and if the squint is not treated soon irreparable vision loss occurs and the child will become vision impaired in that eye.
Without neuroplasticity in response to environmental stimulation the main pathways in the brain and normal development of the brain doesn’t happen.
After this critical period of neuroplasticity in childhood we reach adulthood with a brain that is less able to make the larger anatomical changes, yet it still can change and it does this by thought and repetition making some pathways predominate over others.
Think of the last time you learned how to do something new, here the conscious effort of learning something new starts to fire and join together new pathways in the brain, and in this way we learn how to do something new. With repetition these pathways become stronger and can even happen ‘automatically’ or unconsciously, for example just think of when you learned how to ride a bike, here pathways between sensory areas of your brain, your cerebellum (where your brain handles complex tasks needing coordination) and motor neurones , connect together forming complex neural feedback loops that with practice and repetition allowed you to ride a bike effortlessly, the process in the brain that made this happen is neuroplasticity.
To understand how neuroplasticity can help you change let’s go off track and lets compare your brain to a computer; a computer has a physical structure ‘its hardware’ just like the brain has it’s anatomical structure, a computer runs programs, whereas the brain runs thoughts, the computer has a screen where we can see the result of the programs we run, and the brain has consciousness where we become aware of our representation of what is going on in the world.
Just like a computer not all the thoughts and ‘programs’ our brain runs show up on the screen and therefore consciously and sometimes again like a computer we run different programs, or certain programs predominate depending on what we are doing.
So consider this analogy and imagine if we could use neuroplasticity to ‘upgrade’ our brain, create better programs and choose the programs we want to run.
Neuroplasticity can help us re-enforce and dictate which neuronal pathways we use the most, which ‘programs we want to run’ and which thoughts predominate in our mind, with neuroplasticity we have the ability to train ourselves to think differently and choose the way we think, the more we do this the more these neuronal pathways fire and the stronger and more ingrained this way of thinking becomes.
“Our life is what our thoughts make it”. – Marcus Aurelius
“A man is a product of his thoughts, what he thinks of he becomes”. – Gandhi
Some of us get stuck in the way we think, we can get stuck in negative thinking patterns, and for some of us we can get trapped in a problem state, here our neurology gets stuck just like when a computer freezes. Neuroplasticity can help us learn how to think in different ways, to help us solve problems and to move on. Many therapies work like this where a therapist tasks you to look for alternatives, allowing new ways of thinking to develop and hopefully with time predominate.
Neuroplasticity is the key to which thought patterns or strategies predominate and this ability to control how we think is essential because what follows your thoughts are your emotions so if you want to stop ruminating on the past, worrying about the future and feeling bad you need to change the way you think and this is where we can use neuroplasticity to our advantage.
“Change your thoughts and you change your World”. – Norman Vincent Peale.
In the context of what most people need to do to change there lives, neuroplasticity can help you make it possible to effect the changes you need to make and for those changes to take effect, neuroplasticity can help you develop the habits, characteristics and traits that you need to succeed.