NEUROPLASTICITY — A BEGINNER’S GUIDE
The human brain is simply awesome. It’s powerful enough to give us the ability to process huge amounts of information, faster than the blink of an eye. It also gives us the ability to adapt to initiate changes within and outside our bodies. This adaptive capability of the brain is called neuro plasticity.
Neuroplasticity is actually the capacity of the brain to act and to respond to internal and external changes. It enables billions of nerve cells (neurons) to help in different learning processes through creating or rearranging neural pathways through communication between the nerves. In other words, neuroplasticity gives us the ability to store a new set of information or to master a new skill.
Let’s break this down together with three important things we might find interesting about how our brain works:
The brain changes all the time, either for the better or for the worse
As they say, nothing is constant but change. Our brain will always change according to which neurons you tap.
People who always experience chronic stress release the hormone cortisol, which affects your hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that’s engaged in visual-spatial memory. So those who have a history of stress can lose up are found to be less capable to form new memories.
Who knew relaxation can be the hero we need for saving our brains?
As the mind changes, the brain changes
Changes in the mental activity can produce changes in the neural activity. In a study where college students are in love and shown a picture of their lovers, their brains become more active in the caudate nucleus, a reward center in the brain. When they stop looking at the picture, this reward center goes back to sleep.
When people are consciously grateful, they are likely to experience higher flows of reward-related neurotransmitters, like dopamine. Research shows that when people are generally grateful toward life, they experience a general brightening of their mind. What does this tell us? We can definitely affect our brains according to the thoughts you focus on. Peter Pan was right after all — “Think happy thoughts!”
You can use your mind to re-shape your brain for the better
There is a scientific process called “self-directed neuroplasticity”. This process refers to intentionally shaping the brain through controlled use of attention. Attention becomes a spotlight to shine on things within your awareness. What do you think will happen when we routinely focus our attention on something we resent or regret?
On the other hand, if we intentionally focus on things which we’re grateful and happy about, such as the blessings in our lives, the things we’ve accomplished, and the people we love, then we build up very different neural states in our minds.
The tricky part of this process is having a stronger command of where you focus your attention on. We live in a world that’s filled with distractions that it’s harder to focus on things you should be focusing on. Gaining control over our attention is more crucial now more than ever.
What can we do to use our minds to intentionally change our brain activities and patterns over time? Here are things we can do to take advantage of our neuro plasticity ability:
Dwell on good experiences
Life is not a concentration of hassles and problems. There are good experiences, no matter how small or trivial they may seem. Nice experiences such as surviving a day at work, noticing the sky to be a lovely shade of blue, checking off an item on your to-do list, and so on. These are opportunities to feel good. Let’s relish these moments and dwell on them as much as we can. Make our bodies really feel these little victories.
Set the intent to take this good experience with us
Let these good experiences sink in so that we can take it with us. We can do this by visualizing the good experience. We can think of it like scoring gold coins and placing them in an imaginary treasure chest in our minds or hearts. We can see it like a golden light passing through us. Let’s work on positive experiences as resources we can take with us by empowering our brains to focus on more positive experiences.
Rewire our brains through meditations
When we lie down at night, let’s think about what we were grateful for during the day. If we have a hard time doing this, we can take a break and keep on trying. Cultivate the habit of focusing on the good things and really feeling them. If we keep thinking nothing we can do can save us from depression, then this will support a depressive outlook, which we really want to avoid all together.
Rewiring our brains to support our happiness is all about practice. If we practice commitment and gratitude, then we cultivate this more and more in our brains.
What can you do to cultivate happiness in your mind?