THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION YOU CAN EVER KNOW (and why you should care about neuroplasticity)
By Peter Ashworth, CEO/CMO | Ashworth.One | @peterashworth4
This may well be the most important information you will ever learn.
Your brain controls your success, your happiness, your financial situation, your relationships and your future. The way to change any of these factors, or any other factor is through the science of Neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is one of the most important discoveries for humanity in the last 100 years. The growing understanding of and interest in brain plasticity is driving a revolution in brain health and science.
It is the ability of your brain to make physiological (structural) changes in your brain that happen as the result of your minute-by-minute interactions with your environment and your experiences. From the time your brain begins to develop in utero until the day you die, the connections (neural pathways) connecting the cells (neurons) in your brain to reorganize in response to your changing situation and needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences, and has been a part of human advancement form the very beginning.
In every moment of your life, every single thing of which you are aware – sounds, sights, thoughts, feelings – and even that of which you are not aware – unconscious mental and physical processes – can be directly mapped to the neural activity in your brain. What you do, experience, think, hope and imagine physically changes your brain through what is called experience-dependent neuroplasticity.
What is the Meaning of Neuroplasticity?
Our brains are truly extraordinary; unlike computers, which are built to certain specifications and receive software updates periodically, our brains can actually receive hardware updates in addition to software updates. Different pathways form and fall dormant, are created and are discarded, according to our experiences. When we learn something new, we create new connections between our neurons. We rewire our brains to adapt to new circumstances. This happens on a daily basis, but it’s also something that we can encourage and stimulate.
How Neuroplasticity Physically Happens
It almost seems too simplistic, too easy – and it is. The process of Neuroplasticity can happen across our entire lifetimes, from conception to death. If you want to change an outcome, change the way you think. However, harnessing neuroplasticity as an adult requires specific circumstances, including focus, dedication, and persistence, but it can be done. What you pay attention to, what you think and feel and want, and how you react and behave all physically shape your brain.
Here is how physical changes happen and neuroplasticity is accomplished, according to world renowned expert, Rick Hanson.
· Busy regions get more blood flow since they need more oxygen and glucose.
· The genes inside neurons get more or less active; for example, people who routinely relax have improved expression of genes that calm down stress reactions, making them more resilient.
· Neural Connections that are relatively inactive wither away; it’s a kind of neural Darwanism, the survival of the busiest, use it or lose it.
· “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” This saying from the work of Donald Hebb means that synapses – the connections between neurons – get more sensitive, plus new neurons grow, producing thicker neural layers.
Mental stimulation strengthens the connections between neurons (synapses), improving neuron survival and cognitive functioning. Mental stimulation also helps build cognitive reserve, helping the brain better cope with defeating fear-based thinking and anxiety disorders.
Neuroplasticity works under the same conditions as physical exercise does for the body. A single workout is not going to make much difference, but continual, regular workouts over time, will gradually have noticeable, lasting effects on your body. The same is true for the practices which shape your brain.
Why is this Important to You?
Because understanding neuroplasticity, its principles and capabilities, can change how you think. It can remove negative behaviors; reduce and even eliminate major life-limiting issues such as anxiety, depression and negative thinking; can help you develop new skills and abilities; change unwanted perspectives and biases; improve your career and relationships; - and give you access to the success and happiness you desire.
Our reality is entirely constructed by our brain. Our plastic brain can cause worry, suffering or dissatisfaction in the same way it can create happiness, confidence, success and abundance.
You can change your DNA through neuroplasticity (altered epigenetics - gene expression). This can change your current genetics, and even the DNA of your future offspring.
Neuroplasticity vs. Neurogenesis
Although related, neuroplasticity and neurogenesis are two different concepts.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new connections and pathways and change how its circuits are wired; neurogenesis is the even more amazing ability of the brain to grow new neurons.
Statistics and Facts About Neuroplasticity
The human brain is the most effective, complex and intelligent entity that we know of in the universe.
The mind is the cognitive intelligence, reasoning, consciousness, (both conscious and subconscious), knowledge-base and self-awareness, while the brain is the physical structure.
You have 86 billion neurons that can create up to 100 trillion connections or neural pathways in your brain.
Your brains highly connected neural pathways are organized into neural networks with specific tasks and roles, - which in turn function together as a single, coherent network we call the brain.
Brain information travels at 230 miles per hour, and each neuron can transmit 1,000 nerve impulses per second and make as many as tens of thousands of synaptic contacts with other neurons in that time.
Your brain’s number one priority and purpose is your survival. Every thought you have, begins with the basis of your survival. Your brain is your operating system, running everything including your thoughts, decisions, actions, understandings and worldview, as well as your body’s physical operation through your nervous system, both voluntary action (like conscious choice movement) and involuntary actions (like breathing and heartbeat), and is sending signals to every part of your body, in milliseconds.
Neuroplasticity is a physical process, and changes the brain’s actual structure. Neural pathways and gray brain matter can actually shrink or thicken, neural connections can be created, forged and refined, or weakened and disengaged if not used. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our thinking, perceptions and abilities.
Neuroplasticity is the greatest medical advancement in the past 100 years. The process is recently discovered by Dr Micheal Merzenich PhD, and has enormous potential to change lives, human intelligence, longer life function, and many aspects of our lives and planet. But, neuroplasticity is not new news. Every human does it every day throughout history. It’s been long presumed that mental activity changed neural structure, but the new understanding is in “how” the mind changes the brain, that most neuroplasticity is incremental in small steps, not dramatic.
Neuroplasticity is ethically neutral.
90% of your thinking is subconscious, while only 10% is conscious. Your conscious brain can process 40 bits of information a second, while your subconscious brain can process 11,000,000 bits a second.
The brain has three main parts, each serving their own functions: the outer, larger, cerebrum (the cerebral cortex is responsible for logic, reasoning, interpretation, analysis and fine motor control of movement), the cerebellum (the middle, limbic brain is responsible for the experience and expression of emotion), and the brainstem (the reptilian brain performs many automatic functions such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, wake and sleep cycles, and survival).
The brain needs a lot of energy. It never switches off, running 24/7/365. It extracts approximately 50% of the oxygen and 10% of the glucose from your arterial blood, and uses more energy than any other human organ, accounting for up to 20 percent of your body's total energy, while only weighing 3 pounds.
As your mind changes, your brain changes. You can use your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better (or worse). This is self-directed neuroplasticity. What flows through your mind sculpts your brain. Immaterial experience still leaves material traces behind.
“Neurons that fire together wire together.” (Hebb’s Rule). The more you exercise your specific, focused, sustained conscious thinking on any subject matter, the more your neurons will fire together and build stronger neural pathways in that area. It states that if a presynaptic neuron participates in firing of a postsynaptic neuron, it leads to strengthening the synapses between the neurons, creating stronger networks and pathways. The more we consistently think in certain ways, the more strengthened and dominant that neural pathway becomes. Specifically, the more anxious you are, the more wired you will be to become anxious. The more you practice exercises being non-anxious, the less anxious you will become.
We can train our brain relatively quickly by focused and sustained exercises increasing excitability of active neurons, leading to strengthening existing synapses, then building new synapses and thickening cortex. Changes can happen within days. Alternatively, we can lose or change our skills, habits and perspectives (change our anxiety), by changing pathways known as neuronal “pruning” or “use it or lose it.”
Neuroplasticity is a non-invasive treatment. One of the greatest advantages of plasticity-based therapies is that they are drug free, and can be psychotherapy free. They rely on retraining the brain through repetitious, sustainable, positive, challenging activity.
Your experiences matter. Both for how it feels in the moment and for the lasting residues it leaves behind, woven into the physiological fabric and architecture of your brain and being.
Our hard-wired human need for survival prioritizes negative thoughts or experiences that we perceive as being personally threatening, and like Velcro it pulls them into your conscious then stores them in your subconscious, where they remain vigilant to any similar future situations. This is a major cause of anxiety and fear-based thinking – our brain perceives we are constantly under threat.
Neuroplasticity is heightened for what’s in the direct field of focused awareness. Our brain pulls in highly experiential moments, creating neural attention like a vacuum cleaner, sucking its contents into the brain. But, just creating positive experiences is not enough. They pass through the brain routinely like sand through a sieve, while negative experiences get caught. We need to engage positive experiences actively to weave them into the brain. Sustained mindfulness can make the brain like Velcro for positive experiences, but Teflon for negative ones.
Peter Ashworth is an experienced CMO, brand-builder, and growth executive inspired to positively impact the world. He has worked with many brands and industries to build effective strategies and greater connections to customers - to create growth. He is also a certified Mindset Coach, and has dedicated thousands of hours researching, understanding and teaching principles of Neuroscience, Neuroplasticity, and better thinking to his clients and other Coaches to create life success. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Books I highly recommend on Neuroplasticity, and applying it to your life.
The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
Soft Wired by Dr Michael Merzenich.