What is Neuroplasticity?
Posted: 2016, November 14 | No Comments
Today, I would like to talk about a very interesting subject regarding our brain power. It is called neuroplasticity, also named brain plasticity or brain malleability.
Neuroplasticity is derived from the root words neuron and plastic.
It signifies our brain’s remarkable ability to redesign itself, to change, physically, functionally, and chemically by constantly forming new neural connections throughout life.
As you probably learned in your biology class, neurons, are the nerve cells in our brain. You remember that drawing on the board… showing that each neural cell is made of an axon, dendrites, and is linked to another by a small space called the synapses. Is it coming back?
Yes… And plasticity in neuroplasticity refers to the ability to modify or mould as a piece of plastic is moulded.
Why is neuroplasticity so important? Because it is the source of self-empowerment in our lives, giving to all of us the opportunity to mould the best version of ourselves both physically and emotionally.
Above, how synapses look like.
Types of neuroplasticity
This is not so much related to the empowerment of a healthy individual but takes place in case of brain injury or disease.
This is something that touches me personally because my mother at age 60 had a stroke. It was very hard to see a person who you love, having the right side of the body totally paralized, forgetting and mixing words, calling you by her brother’s name having forgotten yours. She did however partially recovered and I wish I would have known about neuroplasticity then.
I say that because in case of injury, neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to move functions from a damaged area of the brain to other undamaged areas. If one hemisphere of the brain is damaged, the intact hemisphere may take over some of its functions.
A rerouting process takes place starting with alternative routes. When one area of the brain is structurally compromised, other areas will compensate, sometimes even growing physically larger in the process.
In order to reconnect, the neurons need to be stimulated through activity. I am not a neuroscientist but I am sure that specific mental training could have helped my mother at the time, instead of being limited to watch TV.
It refers to the capacity of the neurons in the brain to change their physical structure and behavior by sprouting and forming synapses as a result of sensory stimulation due to the learning of new information. This communication between nerve cells occurs in response to brain activity generated by new and repeated experiences. And this is how we can generate improvement in our personality and build the best version of ourselves.
Become the architect of your brain
In general, we don’t make full use of the capacity of our human brain. We all know that the first few years of a child’s life are a time of rapid brain growth. At birth, every neuron in the cerebral cortex has an estimated 2,500 synapses; by age of three, this number has grown to a whopping 15,000 synapses per neuron.
Up to the 1960s, researchers have historically believed that the brain’s physical structure was permanent by the age of 40, the cognitive abilities being immutable. But a revolution occurred in brain science. We started to realize that the adult brain is more dynamic that we never imagined. Even the elderly are capable of changing the brain organization.
Modern neuroscientific research is now telling us that the brain is not ‘hardwired’, our genes dictating our thoughts, our emotions, and our behavior. The brain continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones in order to adapt to new experiences, learn new information and create new memories.
It was also believed that the human brain could not generate new neural cells and when a cell dies, no new cell can grow. But is has been proven that certain areas in the brain can generate fresh cells.
We also discovered that specific activities and routines can cause the brain to develop or atrophy significantly at any age. The average adult has about half that number of synapses per neuron as a child. Why? Because as we gain new experiences, some connections are strengthened while others are eliminated. This process is known as synaptic pruning.
Neurons that are used frequently develop stronger connections and those that are rarely or never used eventually die. By developing new connections and pruning away weak ones, the brain is able to adapt to the changing environment.
The brain we are born with is then modified by our experiences throughout our lives. Knowing that, we can as an adult rewire our brain so that we can change our life the way we want. We can do that by moulding the organ’s circuitry having new repeated experiences of our choice which will build new wiring patterns and prune others.
Remember that we can not change how we think and feel without changing our brain.
How neuroplasticity can be applied in practical life
Each neuron is capable of maintaining connections with about ten thousand other neurons. These connections change as we learn things.
Every time we think a specific thought, a specific pathway of neurons fires up, neurotransmitters are released and synapses are subtly altered. With repetition, this pathway is strengthened. Our brain’s structure is a culmination of all the thoughts and experiences we have had up to this very moment.
Our brain has the extraordinary ability to adapt to new challenges. For example, by making connections between ideas or images, we also make connections between the neurons that encode those ideas and images. Repetition rewires the brain and breeds new habits. This brings us to say: “Cells that fire together, wire together.”
Not only does behavior change the structure of the brain through neuroplasticity; just thinking about or imagining particular behaviors can change brain structure as well. Mental practice alone contributes to the wiring of the brain.
This is the reason why self-hypnosis is so powerful and can be so beneficial. Hypnosis opens up a direct access to our subconscious mind accepting suggestions literally without the critical factor of the conscious mind. We can then speed up the process of rewiring our nerve cells to speed up positive changes in our lives.
As the author John. B. Arden in his book ‘Rewire the Brain’ explains, the method of rewiring our brain involves four steps. I would say that these apply with conscious thinking or while into hypnotic trance. They are:
FOCUS in paying attention to the situation, the new behaviour, or the memory that you want to repeat or remember.
EFFORT in shifting your attention from perception to action. Making a focused effort activates your brain to establish new synaptic connections.
EFFORTLESSNESS: After a new behaviour, thought, or feeling has been established, it takes less energy to keep it going.
DETERMINATION: Do the activity again and again and/or practice self-hypnosis with imagery again and again.
Note that motivation is also a very critical component of neuroplasticity. You can not change unless you really want to change. A passive effort just won’t work.
So I encourage you as usual to leave any comment about the subject. Neuroplasticity is a fantastic discovery. I am sure neuroscientists will discover a lot more about our brain power and functions in the years to come.