[Excerpt from a 12-page newsletter about brain plasticity, growth mindset, finding purpose, and challenges that keep the brain young.]

Imagine Your Potential

Change Your Brain and Transform Your Life

This issue of [the newsletter] will re-introduce you to your brain and shine a light on new practices that can help you think and live better. The information we’re providing is based on numerous books, research and experts who have tested and reported on the brain’s power to change and adapt. You’ll discover real-life, easy-to-do activities and practices that over time can lead to personal and professional growth, positive thinking and a sense of purpose, and maybe combat illness or slow the effects of aging.

Brain Plasticity Means Endless Possibilities

If you want to learn to play guitar, right now, you probably can. If you want to learn Italian for a vacation to Italy, you probably can. If you want to learn to be happier — more content and fulfilled in your daily life — you probably can do that too. All it takes is practice.

 

In the past, it was understood that children and adolescents build skills and capabilities that carry them into adulthood. That their young brains were continuously creating new connections — forming neuropathways or synapses. For some time, scientists believed that after a certain age, the brain stopped generating neurons and connections. That who we are, how we think, feel, and act was fixed by adulthood.

In the past decade, scientists have discovered that the brain is even more complex than we imagined. It continues to transform, adapt and learn throughout our entire lives. This idea that the human brain is always changing is what neuroscientists call brain plasticity or neuroplasticity. It’s launched research and discovery in fields across science, medicine, psychology and sociology. Experts know that the neuropathways in our brain continue to make new connections or die out, depending on how it’s used.

Using Your Brain for Better or Worse

 

For better or worse, your brain establishes neuropathways and just like your favorite route to work, it will use the same routes time and again. This transpires into how you think, feel, and act. It determines your skills and habits. It’s evident in how you get along with other people, cope with stress, and how you spend your free time.

If you’ve found yourself in a rut and you want to change, the good news is — you can. We know the brain can learn and establish new connections with practice, so you can form new habits. You can train your brain to think in ways that better serve you.

Ask yourself questions, such as:

  • What can I achieve in my career?

  • How can I tap into my best, most motivated self?

  • Can I think healthier to slow the effects of aging?

 

Speak to yourself and think of yourself with words that are positive and action-focused, such as: 

Imaginative, innovative, creative, purpose-driven, content, optimistic, grateful, connected, engaged, resilient, capable, healthy, productive, in service to others, a learner, a giver, successful, youthful, intelligent, decisive

Think What You Want and Practice to Improve

Knowing that the human brain can make new neurons and connections — at any time throughout our lives — is just the beginning. The next question is how can you make that work for you?

Encourage Your Brain to Be a Good Influence

You may have seen stories about stroke victims who relearn motor skills. Or you’ve heard about the power of the placebo effect when testing new drugs on people who suffer from depression. Both of these examples show the body’s ability to heal itself through consistent, practiced thoughts and actions.

Everyday actions and life events can create neurons. Those neurons establish neuropathways. Those neuropathways influence your thoughts and behaviors.

You're In Control. Actions That Change Your Brain

By engaging in actions that encourage a healthy brain, you can harness the power of neuroplasticity. You can think clearly, learn easily, improve focus, and manage reactive emotions, but it takes a conscious effort and practice. When it comes to learning, the brain does not discriminate between what’s helpful or harmful.​

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity makes the brain resilient. That means the brain is always learning. But your brain is neutral, it doesn't know the difference between good and bad. It learns whatever is repeated - helpful and unhelpful thoughts, actions and habits. You literally can THINK your way into a state of depression, anxiety and compulsion, or you can think of yourself happier. That's not to say improving your brain - your way of thinking - is easy. It requires a consistent commitment and daily habits that will become easier, more automatic over time.​

  • Reframe challenging situations and negative thoughts

  • Address common stressors

  • Socialize

  • Meditate

  • Audit your emotions

  • Learn new things

  • Practice gratitude

  • Food is medicine - eat a healthy diet

  • Move your body and sweat once a day

  • Seek new experiences

Proof That Thinking Can Make It So

A scientist named Alvaro Pascual-Leone taught a sequence of notes to two groups of people who had never studied piano. He showed them which fingers to move and let them hear the notes as they were played.

 

Group 1, the Mental Practice Group, sat in front of a keyboard two hours a day, for five days, and imagined playing and hearing the sequence. Group 2, the Physical Practice Group, actually played the music two hours a day for five days. On the fifth day, both groups showed similar changes in the mapping of neurons, and

the same changes to the motor system.

 

However, the two groups did not improve to the same degree between the first and fifth day. So, Pascual-Leone gave the Mental Practice Group two hours to practice — physically play the music. Then they performed equally as well as the Physical Practice Group.

 

The Link Between Thoughts, Feelings and Behavior

What you think will directly influence your behavior. That’s why it’s important to avoid giving time and energy to every thought that crosses your mind — especially the negative ones. For example, if you keep thinking that you’re inadequate, you won’t act in ways that lead to success. You’re more likely to look for evidence that reinforces your belief and not pay attention to proof you ARE capable. So, you may be very capable — but your beliefs are holding you back.

The Cycle of Negative Thinking

  1. You think you're incapable.

  2. You feel incapable and discouraged.

  3. You act incapable and put in less effort.

  4. You believe you're incapable.

  5. You and others regard you as incapable.

  6. You are back at #1.

Challenge Your Conclusions

Don’t let negative thoughts govern your mind. When you catch yourself sabotaging your happiness or competency or success, try this:

 

Look for contrary evidence. Instead of looking closely at examples that you think prove you’re incapable, study the evidence of your success. Do this through reframing, gratitude or growth mindset exercises — all of which we’ll be covering throughout this brain health series. With practice, you can train your brain to think differently. When you give up self-limiting beliefs, you’ll be better equipped to reach your greatest potential.

 

Act worthy. When you’re feeling incapable — do something that makes you feel capable. Then challenge yourself to take that activity further from your comfort zone. Stretch your competency and put your negative beliefs to the test.

Practice. You can train your brain to think differently. When you give up self-limiting beliefs, you’ll be better equipped to reach your greatest potential.

Sources:

https://www.amenclinics.com/

Doidge, Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) https://www.nicabm.com/brain-how-does-neuroplasticity-work/