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What is Brain Plasticity?
Brain plasticity is the idea that pathways in our brain strengthen or weaken as we learn and grow. This is why habits can be so hard to break- good or bad. Your brain has developed pathways reinforcing what you do.
Sometimes you develop pathways that you do now want. For example, if you experience chronic stress, the part of your brain that makes you feel anxious grows larger. This makes you much more sensitive to stress and anxiety. That is why it can feel so difficult to return back to normal after experiencing chronic stress.
One of the dangers of this pattern is that your habits and actions can shape your view of yourself. For example, if you have some sort of social anxiety and are shy around people, it is easy to believe that the shyness is your personality and who you are.
You may end up feeling like you can't do certain things such as speak in public. You may think that you won't have many friends or give up easily when it comes to interviews.
In reality, the shyness isn't necessarily who you are. You are capable of acting confident. However, you do have to deal with the fact that there may be some pathways in your brain telling you to feel anxious and trying to prevent you from changing.
Lately, I have been learning about anhedonia, the loss of pleasure, and the effect that it has on the brain. Anhedonia is a common symptom of depression even though it can have many causes. According to the website Anhedoniasupport.com, certain communications between parts of the brain can break down when you have prolonged anhedonia. This can complicate symptoms and can cause them to drag on an recur.
As much as brain plasticity can lead to problems, it also shows our tremendous capacity for healing and growth. If you feel stuck, you are more that capable of growing and overcoming your issues. As you take each step, those pathways are growing stronger in your brain. Even if you mess up, the pathways remain waiting for you to strengthen them.
Ultimately, life affects us. Things that happen to us can reinforce pathways in our brain that we do not chose. We should take that into consideration when we wonder why we do the things that we do (or why others do the things that they do). However, we can take back control.
Keep in mind that I am not a health professional. This article is for informational purposes only. Read my full medical disclaimer here.
Taking Back Control
One tool that is very helpful if you want to take advantage of brain plasticity is meditation. Meditation is excellent for developing focus, so you are not as likely to fall back into old patterns of thinking. It is also easy to get started- all you need is something to focus on- your breath, a sound, maybe a single candle.
Simply get into a comfortable position and focus on the thing you chose. Pay attention to how it sounds, feels, any sensation associated with it. If you notice that you are lost in thought, turn your attention back to what you were focusing on. See if you can do it for about 5 minutes.
Below is a guided mindfulness meditation from Mindful Peace. If you want to start meditating, it is a good idea to start with some guided meditations. These are easy to find on youtube and soundcloud.
Books About Brain Plasticity
If you are interested in learning more about brain plasticity, I recommend a couple of books (the links lead to Amazon.com).
The first is My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. Taylor is a brilliant brain scientist with a deep understanding of how the mind functions. However, in her 30's she suffers a stroke and experiences a significant amount of brain damage.
This book details many things- her healing process, the loss of an identity she once had, the support of her mother, working with doctors within the medical community. It is an incredibly moving book which testifies to her ability to heal. I highly recommend it if you are interested in learning more about brain plasticity and want to see what it can do.
The second is Rewire Your Brain by Dr. John Arden. Dr. Arden is also a neuroscientist with more than 40 years of experience. This book gives practical ways to take advantage of brain plasticity and improve your life.
In conclusion, your brain is not set in stone. The fact that the brain is plastic, i.e. changing, means that you have an incredible capacity to heal mental pain. In this post, I went over how brain plasticity may make it difficult to change and why you must be deliberate about it.
In the comments below, let me know if you have ever met someone who was able to completely turn a situation around. Have you experienced the effects of brain plasticity in your own life?