The study of neuroplasticity
is like composing a love poem for your brain.
Technically defined, neuroplasticity “describes how experiences reorganize neural pathways in the brain. Long lasting functional changes in the brain occur when we learn new things or memorize new information.“ That’s from a faculty page at the University of Washington. What it means is that neuroplasticity is the characteristic of our brains which causes the physical, cellular structure of our brains to change over time as we learn and experience new things. More importantly, it means that what you put into your brain determines what you get out of it.
Learning about neuroplasticity is learning how to maintain your best asset, how to keep it healthy and happy, correctly utilized and appreciated. The human mind is capable of the most amazing feats, and mastering the neuroplastic methods that work best for you and your personal situation is – in my humble opinion – the most direct method to get the most out of your life. It lets you learn more material, faster and more thoroughly, but that’s not even the biggest advantage. It can teach you how to improve your outlook, your self-perception, and become more motivated and productive. It teaches you how to train yourself to think.
I know these sound like ridiculously over-the-top claims, but they’re really just the tip of the iceberg. Traditional neurology tells us to approach the brain as we approach the rest of the body, as a piece of machinery that functions inn a particular way, with each part having a strictly defined function and purpose. But neuroplasticity demonstrates that it’s not so much a definition as a guideline, and those guidelines can be altered or ignored altogether. Many of the biggest limitations we place on our intellectual capabilities aren’t even real; it’s just what we think are our limitations and they therefore become our limitations.
After all, there are downsides to neuroplasticity as well. For example, do you get angry in traffic every morning when you drive to work? You’re actually growing your brain in a way that strengthens the neural connections between your morning routine and anger. Your brain is physically changing to create more neural connections between getting in your car and becoming frustrated and aggressive. Before too long, you can get incredibly angry at the first person that takes a left turn. It’s not logical or healthy, but that’s what you’ve programmed your brain to do.
I’m still doing research on this subject and I suspect that I will continue to for the rest of my life. It’s applications are infinite, and it’s a great source of both hope and inspiration to me. Some of the case studies are absolutely incredible and it gives a solidly scientific basis to things like self-talk and psychotherapy. There’s a fantastic book on neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge, called “The Brain that Changes Itself.” It’s written in an easy-to-read style, but it contains a ton of information and it’s absolutely fascinating.