Neuroplasticity comes about as an extremely important discovery as it serves as a happy alternative to the erroneous idea that brains are fixed in their anatomical and structural function. In fact, brain plasticity refers to lasting change to the brain throughout the lifespan. This is the golden ticket to optimization as it is the intrinsic property of the brain to enable itself to escape its genetic limitations by being able to adapt to environmental pressures, physiological changes and negati thoughts! The term became popular in the 60’s after the work of Livingston (Livingston R.B. 1966 “Brain mechanisms in conditioning and learning”. Neurosciences Research Program Bulletin. 4 (3): 349–354). He showed that many aspects of the brain remain changeable (or “plastic”) even into adulthood. This work challenged the previous scientific consensus that the brain develops during a critical period in early childhood, then remains relatively unchangeable (or “static”).
One thing that changes the brain, all the time and everytime is LEARNING. However, not all learning changes the brain permanently….
Short-term learning or memory is when brain cells or neurons signal between themselves via chemicals. These are rapid but easily degraded. This comes into play when you have to learn a 10 digit phone number, for example. Most people will retain this long enough to make a call or write it down and then promptly forget it. Long-term learning or memory, on the other hand, is when the connections between neurons physically change and strengthen and this happens OVER TIME AND WITH REPETITION. This is where lasting learning occurs because firing patterns of the neurons change and in fact these patterns become easier to activate with increased and repeated experience….whole networks of brain regions shift and change to accomodate learning but this take time and effort!
To demonstrate the permanent nature of long-term learning, studies have shown that musicians, who play stringed instruments, have larger areas of their brains (motor cortex) dedicated to their active hands. Even brain scans of London taxi drivers have revealed that the more years a driver has on the job correlates to a larger portion of their brain (parietal lobe) being recruited to store spatial information.
“Increased connectivity between neurons is associated with greater ability.”
Reprogramming your thoughts
The demonstration of neuroplasticity is proof that we have a great deal of control over the behavior of our brains and thus consequently the output of our minds. The ability to reroute thought patterns, even those acquired in childhood, at the cellular level is a quite literally life-changing skill — and one that can be taught and learned.
Our thought patterns influence our lives at multiple levels — in fact, for many people, their thoughts are the only things holding them back from their dreams. By harnessing the knowledge we have gained in neuroscience and pairing that with psychology and tools such as mediation and brainwave training we can take change our thoughts and induce better patterns of neuron wiring.
These findings demonstrate that Hebb’s law: Neurons that fire together wire together and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its physical structure and function based on repeated experience, behavior, and thoughts, are the innate properties we have to better optimize our mental functioning.
But What About Brain Damage?
Most neurons, outside the hippocampus, are amitotic — meaning they do not reproduce and divide like most other cells in our bodies. As such, neuroscientists believed that the amitotic nature of neurons meant that any sustained brain damage was permanent; after all, if you can’t grow a new neuron to replace a damaged neuron, then how can any damage be repaired? The answer is through neuroplasticity. The connection/messenger space between neurons — known as synapses — can reroute to new, undamaged areas of the brain, and those new areas can “take over” tasks that were previously assigned to the damaged area. This regularly happens in those who are blinded. Their brain naturally reroutes to accommodate an increase in their hearing efficacy.
Neuroplasticity happens through proper stimulation in the form of doing things that are hard and challenging, leading a healthy lifestyle, engaging in purposeful thought recognition and change and finally having a diet that promotes a healthy brain.
Brains are highly variable and one size cannot fit all and as such optimization requires a personalized approach, as the one available via the OMF program.
See Lara Boyd’s enriching talk on neuroplasticity!