Is that a familiar saying?
What about ‘oh, that’s just how I am’
We used to think that the brain and the structure within brains (neurones) was pretty fixed. If any area of the brain or nervous system got damaged, there was no way of repairing it. We also used to think that how we are is how we are always going to be.
However, science has shown us that the brain is far more plastic than we thought. The word neuroplasticity is being used to describe how the brain can change and grow over time. Now this is good news and bad news.
The good news, no, the great news is, we can teach ourselves new things, the brain can grow in size and increase in complexity as new connections grow over time and with practice. For example new research has shown you can learn to be more compassionate, we know that professional musicians have larger areas in the brain related to auditory skills, they also have a 15% increase in the size of their corpus callosum, the link between right and left brain, showing how certain skills enhance certain areas of the brain. We also know that when we work with people who have struggled with depression, that we can help them to create a different way of thinking that can have an enormous impact on their emotions and behaviours. (I will come back to simple steps to start new brain growth.)
What does this mean in practice? Well, like using a machete to forge a new path through native bush, you can create new neural pathways, which get easier to follow the more you use them. And, like bush pathways, if you go back to old ways and not use them, you will get new growth across the pathway to make the passage more difficult to find again.
Now, I am sure you have already worked out the bad news. New pathways and and new neural connections can form in ways that are not resourceful and not desired. It is possible for example, for an adult to have depression for the first time, even though you have never used that strategy in the past. So, using the analogy of bush walking, what do we now know?
– don’t keep treading the new path. Let it grow over
– get help early on, before it becomes a well worn path
– and in some way we are forming the new path. Get help to find out why and how, so you can change what you are doing.
Is it easy? Not always and it can be.
The old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is not actually correct. In the light of this new knowledge of neuroplasticity, what we know is that practice makes permanent; or at least if you keep doing what you have always done, you will keep getting the same results. What is important is to make sure that you strengthen the neural pathways that get you the right results. You can change, but you have to develop those new options, then reinforce them through repeated use.
So, how do we stimulate new brain growth? There are all sorts of theories, but some simple ones include:
– move …. exercise. Physical stimulation helps stimulate brain activity
– stimulate the brain, not to excess, but to challenge you. Learn something new to stimulate the brain and to stimulate growth and new connections and
– use positive visualizations to set the direction of the changes you set out into your future. Visualizse an active and healthy mind. Imagine what would be open to you through using your brain in new ways.
The first step is being aware that you can change: Start to believe you can change.
Then decide you want to change and what direction you want to move in.
Then you can use tools and techniques, based in new science and supported by qualified coaches to take the first steps to a new future.
Whatever your age, whatever your situation, you can make new choices. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.