Put simply, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change itself in response to learning. An example I love and often use when explaining neuroplasticity in workshops, is a study of London taxi drivers using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which showed that they often have enlarged hippocampus – the part of the brain heavily involved in memory. That makes sense given the knowledge test that London taxi drivers need to pass to certify; and if you’ve experienced a London taxi ride, you know they know all the back ways. Interestingly, the study also showed that many of the drivers’ hippocampi shrank back down to normal size when they retired.
So the brain can be kind of “use it or lose it” if you will.
Sounds awesome right – and yes neuroplasticity certainly can be quite the superpower if you know about it, understand it, and know how to self-direct it.
Unfortunately neuroplasticity very much has a dark side for most people as our brains are wired for survival, and not to achieve anything too great ……..
As another example, the part of the brain associated with detecting fear – real or in most cases these days, perceived – is called the amygdala. Again, you have to love MRI scanners which can show us evidence that it becomes enlarged for people who are prone to anxiety, and correspondingly, the part of the brain for rational thinking (the pre-frontal cortex) often shrinks.
Wait, what? Let’s read that again. So if you are prone to anxiety, the related parts of the brain get bigger so that you become more prone to anxiety and the part of the brain you really want to kick in for some rational thinking is getting smaller. Ouch – doesn’t than seem like a bit of a flaw in neuroplasticity? Yes it certainly does!
Oh and the dark side of neuroplasticity continues…… Say you have a goal that you want to achieve and yet you have those little voices in your head saying “I can’t” or “that won’t work”, or that really common one – “I’m not good enough”. Guess what, that wiring becomes stronger and stronger and stronger the more you think it. This means that the likelihood of achieving the goal becomes less and less likely. Yikes!
The good news is that if you understand neuroplasticity and know how to self-direct it for good not evil, it becomes the 8th wonder of the world. That’s right compound interest, we’re moving you to number 9.
So here are some tips to get you started:
- Whenever you realise that you are having an unhelpful thought – notice it. Don’t judge it, just notice it. Awareness is half the battle.
- Ask yourself how that thought is serving you and helping you to achieve your goals.
- If it’s not serving you, stop ruminating on it. Intercept those unhelpful and stop adding to the strength of your unhelpful wiring.
As one of my great friends and well known global business coach, Bill Bachrach says….. “if you don’t exactly know how something is going to work out, you may as well choose to think something that is in line with your goal”.
So just like training your muscles, you need to give conscious effort to training your brain like a muscle. The good news is, mindset training can actually be done on the couch – woohoo!
If you would like to know more about neuroplasticity and directing it for good, rather than unconsciously using it for evil, why not come along to our next open workshop series.