Have you ever wanted to be a better colleague? Better leader? Better friend?
If so, then you need to know about neuroplasticity.
Ever since you were born, you’ve been reacting to external stimuli. Maybe you had wonderful childhood experiences, and the neural pathways in your brain were formed, and your responses to outside forces are appropriate and acceptable.
Maybe you had a difficult time growing up, and your neural connections were formed, and your responses to external stimuli are less than ideal. Or maybe you lie somewhere in the middle, like most of us, in the vast and vivid landscape of human experience.
But no matter where you land, neuroplasticity should excite you. Why? Because it unlocks the ability to retrain your brain to better respond to all sorts of situations, and essentially allows you to develop into an improved version of yourself. Read on to discover the secrets of neuroplasticity and see what it has to offer you.
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What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, particularly in response to learning and experience or after trauma.
These synaptic connections exist in all of our brains, and when we learn something new, we form new connections between our neurons. When we experience new things, we form more pathways between more neurons.
Through neuroplasticity, we are actually able to retrain the brain and, ultimately, change the way that we respond to external stimuli, therefore changing our moods and maybe even our personality and behavior.
As Courtney Ackerman of Positive Psychology explains,
We rewire our brains to adapt to new circumstances. This happens on a daily basis, but it’s also something we can encourage and stimulate.
As you might expect, just as muscles lose tone when you stop strengthening them regularly, your thinking can become foggy or less productive when you don’t spend time actively working on developing yourself and your mindset. Retraining the brain takes consistent practice as well as maintenance of healthy habits.
5 Key Areas Where Neuroplasticity Influences You
Neuroplasticity also has the power to influence you as a person. In fact, neuroplasticity can inspire fundamental changes in people and how they live.
As Joyce Shaffer states in his study,
Neuroplasticity and Clinical Practice: Building Brain Power for Health“, there are “many ways new neuroscience can inform treatment protocols to help build brain power and [sic] increase adherence to healthy lifestyle changes that have also been associated with simultaneously enhancing vigorous longevity, health, happiness, and wellness.
Most people who are trying to retrain their brains focus on some, if not all, of these five key areas.
Getting enough sleep is vital for you and your brain’s health. For optimal results, sleep for seven to eight hours each night, and make sure that your rest is deep and without interruption.
This both resets our brain’s energy levels and gets rid of much of the useless information that has seeped in throughout our day, leaving us refreshed and able to focus on what is really important.
The exploration of the mind and the many thoughts coursing through it has become a very popular practice in our culture.
It is also an ideal way to develop our neuroplasticity.
At its core, mindfulness is about tuning out all the noise that assaults us on a daily basis and allowing ourselves to spend some quiet time with ourselves. This time provides ample space for reflection, self-awareness, humility, affinity, and connection.
A balanced, vegetable-heavy diet is a great asset when developing the strength and tone of your brain muscle. Consuming adequate nutrients is required for optimal brain usage and left/right hemisphere integration.
Ensuring that you experience surprise and delight in your daily life works like Miracle Grow for the brain. When we allow ourselves to learn something new, we stretch our perspectives and develop new pathways by which to see and experience the world and the people who are in it.
Frequent movement enables our bodies to process nutrients efficiently and remains in an active state.
Essential chemicals required for us to feel good and recover from trauma are released into our body and brain when we exercise.
That’s why regular activity is recommended for those who are exploring neuroplasticity and its impact on the human brain.
These five key focus areas are just a starting point for approaching neuroplasticity and all it has to offer.
You may find that you need to include an additional focus area or swap out one of the suggested focus areas for something specific to you and your needs.
The study, “Dynamic Brains and the Changing Rules of Neuroplasticity: Implications for Learning and Recovery,” concurs with this sentiment, and goes on to state that,
as with many medical and health-related fields where personalized and precision medicine are increasingly becoming mainstream, neurotherapeutic interventions targeting mechanisms of plasticity and cognition should also follow an individualized approach by harnessing individual differences to best utilize the brain’s innate capacity to change.
How to Create Peace of Mind
Creating peace of mind is easier said than done.
Each day, we have a countless number of thoughts and ideas bouncing around inside our brains, capturing our attention and focus.
In order to create peace of mind, it is necessary to attempt to quiet, silence, or ignore our racing thoughts, and focus on our breathing, presence, and the moment at hand.
Meditation is a useful strategy to build the brain’s muscles and concentrate your focus. In mindfulness meditation, we learn how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, and notice when the mind wanders off task.
The practice of returning your focus to the breath builds the muscles of attention and mindfulness, creating a calm, content mindset.
This creates peace of mind and allows you to relax and remain in the present moment, anchoring yourself in the here and now, on purpose and without judgment.
How to Increase Clarity
Building your brain’s neuroplasticity can help you to make concrete changes to your behaviors. And before setting out on any new behavior change, many people miss the essential step of finding clarity.
Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish — and more importantly, why you want to accomplish it — is the foundation for making real, long-term change.
Ask yourself some questions to help you dig deep and reflect on why you’re doing this, such as:
- What are my passions?
- What’s my philosophy for living?
- What are my strengths?
- What are my biggest accomplishments?
- What are my areas of growth?
- What are my disappointments or regrets?
- Where do I want a do-over or to begin again?
Your answers to these questions help bring you clarity and uncover what your true goals are. This empowers you by bringing you closer to understanding what behaviors you would like to focus on changing or adapting through neuroplasticity.