Last week’s post talked about self-regulation and the fight-or-flight response, two naturally occurring capacities that exist in all of us. Understanding your biological hardwiring is empowering because you can harness that knowledge to get in charge of yourself.
Today we’re covering another innate capacity that you can harness for personal growth: neuroplasticity.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s innate ability to reorganize itself from every experience.
With or without your conscious effort, your brain is physically changing and responding to input all the time. This is happening in every single moment, with every single experience you have. How remarkable is that? Just think - your brain will be physically different at the end of this blog post from when you started reading it!
Thanks to your ever-changing brain, you’re able to learn, grow, and move your life in the direction you want. You can learn to achieve more functional ways of relating to yourself, others, and the world around you. You can create lasting shifts in your life for health, happiness, and peace.
You can change in any direction you wish.
You already have limitless potential for growth hardwired into your brain. The trick is to learn how neuroplasticity works so that you can use it to your advantage.
How Does Neuroplasticity Work?
Let’s start with some brain basics.
Whenever you do anything - think, talk, move, feel - it’s the result of your brain cells, or neurons, firing messages to each other. Neurons send messages from cell to cell in the form of electrical impulses. These impulses travel along neural pathways in patterns that correlate with your thoughts, behaviors, and experiences.
The orange arrows represent data transmission from one neuron to another.
A layer of fat called the myelin sheath insulates the neural pathways in your brain. The myelin sheath acts as a conductor for neural messages that makes it possible for neurons to communicate faster and more efficiently.
The red section represents the myelin sheath surrounding the cell axon.
The more you use a certain neural pathway, the stronger the myelin sheath. The most commonly used pathways turn into your default modes of operation. It becomes easy, habitual, even automatic for you to think and act in the same patterns because they’ve been reinforced by repeated experiences. The pathways that you don’t use get pruned and diminish from disuse.
The pathway to the faded neuron has been pruned from disuse.
The frequently used pathway has been myelinated.
So this is how neuroplasticity works, in a nutshell: your brain changes its structure based on how it is used. Neural connections get stronger or weaker based on a “use it or lose it” principle.
Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity
The pathways in your brain shape the way you perceive and interact with the world. The habits you’ve developed early in life are easy to hold on to, and hard to break, because they are deeply embedded in your neural pathways.
Sometimes having established patterns can be helpful, like if you’ve practiced staying calm in stressful situations. Established patterns can also be harmful, like if you have anxiety that creates stress on top of stress.
But the beauty of your biology is this: no matter what point you're at in life right now, you already have the ability to change hardwired into your brain. This makes neuroplasticity the hidden cornerstone of all MindAlign teachings.
So what are some things that you can start doing right now to help train your brain for personal growth?
You can start with something as simple as noticing your breath. Turning your attention to what is happening inside of your body rewires your brain to focus on the present moment. This builds new pathways related to directing your attention on what is happening right now, as opposed to wandering into worry of what might happen in the future. With practice and repetition, it becomes easier to redirect your attention to your breath and stay in the present moment, where learning, growth, and inner peace are found.
Another immediate action is to more carefully select what you feed your brain. Everything you feed yourself is truly so important - the thoughts you follow, the shows you watch, the conversations you carry - because everything impacts the way your brain is wired. You have the power to choose healthy content for your mind and body. Reinforce patterns of positive, constructive thinking and behavior, as opposed to destructive patterns. New habits are created by the small decisions and actions you make every day.
Aside from these immediate steps, the most effective way to pursue personal growth is to work with a mentor who models the life skills you need to live the life you want to create. (A future blog post will talk about mentorship and the interpersonal aspect of neuroplasticity.)
It takes commitment, but the idea is simple: change your brain, change your life!
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