“Thought changes structure … I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and trauma.” ~ Norman Doidge, Canadian-born psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself
The human brain is remarkably malleable. It can be shaped very much like a ball of Play-Doh, albeit with a bit more time and effort.
Within the last 20 years, thanks to rapid development in the spheres of brain imaging and neuroscience, we can now say for certain that the brain is capable of re-engineering – and that we are the engineers.
In many ways, neuroplasticity – an umbrella term describing lasting change to the brain throughout a person’s life – is a wonderful thing.
Here are a few reasons why:
– We can increase our intelligence (“I.Q.”)
– We can learn new, life-changing skills.
– We can recover from certain types of brain damage.
– We can become more emotionally intelligent.
– We can “unlearn” harmful behaviors, beliefs, and habits.
On the other side of the coin, we can redesign our brain for the worse!
Fortunately, thanks to our ability to unlearn harmful behaviors, beliefs, and habits, we can right the ship again!
Beliefs Change The Brain
Donald Hebb, an early pioneer of neuroplasticity and neuropsychology, famously said:
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Dr. Michael Merzenich, now recognized as perhaps the world’s most renowned neuroscientist, built on Hebb’s work, proving the relationship between our thoughts (“neurons that fire”) and structural changes in the brain (“wire together.”)
Among Dr. Merzenich’s numerous discoveries, this one may be the most important:
Your experiences, behaviors, thinking, habits, thought patterns, and ways of reacting to world are inseparable from how your brain wires itself.
Negative habits change your brain for the worse. Positive habits change your brain for the better.
Neuroplasticity and Illness
Consider this quote by Alex Korb, Ph.D., and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time:
“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”
Neuroplasticity can be both the problem and the solution.