So, along my personal development journey I’ve recently been led to this discussion about the brain and how there is new evidence (at least 5 yrs. old) that suggests that the brain doesn’t stop expanding and changing after childhood, but that it’s ever-expanding. The implication is that you can teach an old dog new tricks if the old dog is a willing participant (woof! woof!). Therefore, the idea that behavior and ways of being in adulthood are fixed is a bunch of bologna. So much for the “that’s just how I am” argument…
What is it?
A simple definition of neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change, to rewire itself, to transform with new experiences. The way humans function, especially adults, has a lot to do with actions that we’ve performed many, many times, and, as a result, our brains have formed neural pathways (like roads in your brain) because of this reinforced behavior. Neuroplasticity suggests that just because we’ve engaged in behavior a thousand times before doesn’t mean that we can’t learn and habituate new behavior. When we learn new behavior we carve out a new road and the old road, since it’s unused and less active, becomes less influential. Neuroplasticity also has wonderful implications for rehabilitation from brain and physical injuries, mental health, addiction, spirituality, and just about anything that has anything to do with the brain (which is just about everything).
Our brain is a complex organ, the most dynamic system in the universe to date. There are areas within the brain that impact our ability to control impulses, pay attention, our motor and sensory abilities, our emotions, you name it. Dr. David Amen focuses on brain imaging to highlight over-active, neutrally active, and minimally active areas in the brain (I’ve included a link to his amazing work at the end of this article). His imaging techniques explain a lot about human behavior, for instance, why certain people are highly conflict driven and others suffer from suicidal ideation. Amen’s work, and that of the neurological and neuropsychological communities, suggests that there are practical, physiological reasons why humans behave the way we do, and much of this behavior originates in the brain.
Now: Self-Directed Neuroplasticity
Self-directed neuroplasticity suggests that there are activities in which individuals can engage that incite the brain to change in very specific ways. One of the leading contributors to this component of brain science is Dr. Rick Hanson. Hanson suggests that activities that promote mindfulness and focused attention cause the brain to become thicker (which is a good thing, despite the negative connotation associated with being “hard-headed”) in two specific areas: the pre-frontal cortex and the insula. The pre-frontal cortex is the area that governs how we focus attention and concentrate (among other things), and the insula is where feelings/considerations for others is housed in the brain. The activity that Hanson is referring to is meditation. Meditation allows practitioners to be better able to focus their attention, and encourages compassion and empathy.
Why This is My New Favorite Thing
The fact that this is a burgeoning science and I’m on a specific path to personal development and eliminating old, no longer useful behaviors, replacing these with actions that are better aligned with my soul’s urges is AWESOME! Neuroplasticity and other neurological/neuropsychological advances have made a synchronistic appearance into my life. And don’t get it twisted; this information really isn’t anything that new because adults have to learn new things all of the time and consistently have to create new neural pathways with the relocation of jobs, homes, becoming an empty nester, etc. But for some reason, adults often struggle with changing other behaviors, particularly those that no longer serve them.
Neuroplasticity is kind of like a big deal to me. It tells me that even if inspirational quotes and biographies of successful people who had it rough early in life weren’t enough to convince me that I can change certain deep-seated behaviors, there is literal proof that these behaviors can be reshaped. I don’t mean to state the obvious, but I kind of have to: there are literally no more excuses.
I’m looking forward to learning more about this topic, applying it to my life, and sharing it with others. What I have done is I’ve started meditating at least once a day as a requirement, and have also committed myself to a 31-day #GratitudeChallenge for the month of October to help develop the habit of acknowledging that for which I am grateful.
Meditation is helping me, particularly when I jog now. I’ve been able to focus my attention on accomplishing my personal goals instead of listening to that voice that gives me all the reasons why I should stop running and just go home. The overall idea is to commit to doing things for a considerable amount of time that are more aligned with what my soul wants. I am also getting better with recognizing the difference between the voice of the “ghost of former habits that no longer serve me” and that of the “Me” that is slowly manifesting as a component of my physical reality.
Check out the references that I’ve included at the end of this article. I hope they are as useful to you as they have been to me. More on this topic in the future, but for now: to your continued personal development!
Let’s Do Better.
Hanson, R. (2011). Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: A 21st -Century View of Meditation. Retrieved from http://noetic.org/noetic/issue-nine-april/self-directed-neuroplasticity/ .
Lieff, J. (2012). Meditation and Neuroplasticity, Self-Directed Neuroplasticity, New Default Mode. Retrieved from http://jonlieffmd.com/blog/neuroplasticity-and-meditation-self-directed-neuroplasticity-new-default-mode .
National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Sciences (n.d.). New Brain Science-New Findings in Neuroplasticity. Retrieved from http://www.nicabm.com/programs/brain-science/
YouTube (2011). Rick Hanson- Understanding Neuroplasticity. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTPks7XQbSw&feature=g-user-u.