How Neuroplasticity can Get You Unstuck

Get Unstuck in Life Through Brain Plasticity

Have you ever heard about Brain Plasticity?

Don’t feel confused. It doesn’t mean our brain is made of plastic. And, there’s no such involvement of plastic in this process.

So, what is it?

Brain plasticity or neuroplasticity refers to our brain’s ability to change throughout our lifetime. Neuro is the physical structure of the human brain, and plasticity means easily molded or shaped. So, when the two are combined, it becomes neuroplasticity, which means the capacity of the brain to be reconfigured or reprogrammed.

You see, it’s not a medical procedure. It’s a natural process that continues as we grow from kids to adults and enter old age.

Is the Human Brain Able to Change?

That’s not the case!

Contrary to popular perception and previous research that declared the human brain immutable because of being hard-wired, modern research has a different story to tell.

As per the latest studies on the human brain, the brain is actually plastic and has an unimaginably vast ability to change as per our experiences. Apart from genetics, the environment in which we live and our behaviors and actions play a crucial role in our brain’s plasticity.

That’s why Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain That Changes Itself, wrote that “everything having to do with human training and education has to be re-examined in light of neuroplasticity.”

Can Brain Re-Wire Itself?

Yes, indeed!

The human brain can reorganize or re-wire itself by forming new connections with neurons, the all-important brain cells. That’s called neuroplasticity. Do you know there are 86 billion neurons in our brain? Their function is to process and transmit information in the form of electrical and chemical signals. Throughout her life, neurons are reproduced, known as neurogenesis.

Previously, scientists believed that neurons could not be reproduced after the first few years of life, but new research suggests that there’s no time limit for neurogenesis. In research conducted by the Salk Institute, San Diego, it was observed that neurogenesis was occurring in a 72-year-old adult.

And, this could be attributed to our life experiences. Our brain’s programming is prone to change because it doesn’t work on a specific structure or capacity.

Dr. Michael Merzenich, who’s regarded as the father of neuroplasticity, explained that neuroplasticity offers you newer prospects to improve the learning process, mental illnesses, addictive behaviors, and even perform physical rehabilitation.

Stages of Neuroplasticity

It occurs in the brain at several stages in our life, starting from infancy when the brain is immature and learning to organize itself; if there’s a brain injury occurred, neuroplasticity helps it compensate for the lost functions, and it keeps occurring throughout our adult life especially when we learn something new.

Can Neuroplasticity Help You Get Unstuck in Life?

Research has proven that our brain never ceases to evolve. Plasticity refers to the brain’s capacity to change as we learn and experience new things. Such as when you become a pro at some specific field of study or domain, the areas in the brain that deal with that skill undergrow steady growth.

For instance, musicians’ brains undergo more remarkable plastic changes compared to non-musicians. As per a study conducted by Gaser and Schlaug, professional musicians’ gray matter or cortex volume in areas involved in playing music was higher than in amateur musicians and lowest in non-musicians. These areas were motor regions, inferior temporal, and anterior superior parietal areas.

New Thoughts, New Pathways

So, new thoughts and skills we learn create new pathways in the brain. These pathways get strengthened through repetition and practice, whereas old pathways that we do not use more often weaken. Every time we feel, think or do something, these pathways get strengthened even more. This means we can rewire our brain through repeated focus and attention to the desired change and ignoring the undesired thoughts or experiences.

The human brain’s physical structure is such that it lets us process everything from thoughts to memories, feelings to perceptions, decisions, and conclusions, and even attitudes. Neurons provide the pathways along which these feelings and perceptions travel. Keep in mind that the brain behaves more like a muscle group, so it becomes more assertive when we focus on a particular muscle continuously. When we neglect a particular muscle, it wastes away.

Similarly, when neural pathways are laid down in our brain, the more we use a particular neural route, the stronger it’ll be and the easier it will be for any thought pattern to travel down it. On the other hand, the lesser that route is used, the less effective it will become, and eventually, it will be rendered unusable.

Habits of Thought

You can consider neural pathways in the prefrontal cortex as shortcuts for the electrical currents we identify as habits of thought. We naturally interpret current situations as per the rules developed from past experiences. The familiarity of prior experience compels the brain to follow a well-traveled neural pathway. So, when we are stuck in a rut, we won’t get anywhere because we feel safer the way it is and avoid making changes.

Creative insights and solutions to problems often require us to get out of existing neural ruts and break the ongoing thought pattern. Numerous researches on neuroplasticity have revealed that we can develop new neural pathways simply by challenging our brains. One way to do that is by reframing the questions we ask ourselves about a situation we wish to change.

Harvard psychiatrist and brain-image researcher Srini Pillay, wrote in his 2017 book Tinker Dabble Doodle Try that we must shift focus by changing our questions to get unstuck in life. He gave the example of Serena Williams’ comeback in the 2012 US Open tennis tournament. When facing Victoria Azarenka, defending champion Williams struggled a lot. In a post-match press conference, she explained that she was already down by two games in the last set. But instead of worrying about the probability of her losing another set, she focused on this question- “What will it take to win?” Williams calculated that she needs 12 more points and decided to achieve this goal one point at a time. Result- Williams defeated Azarenka.

Remember back in high school when we took French or Spanish lessons? We were slow learners and found the language difficult because there weren’t any neural pathways created through which the new language could travel. We needed to force our brains to lay down these pathways through sheer repetition. After this was done, learning French or Spanish became easier because our brain understood that it needs to come out of its comfort zone since the language isn’t going away.

Final Thoughts

Neuroplasticity can work for good and bad thoughts, feelings, actions, attitudes, almost anything. If you lay down neural pathways and use them repeatedly, your brain will reorganize itself accordingly and make it easier for you to use those mind routes. This is what we call brain programming, and this programming is the leading cause behind why we get stuck and the only way to get free. So, start breaking up those unhelpful mind routes and replacing them with neural pathways that allow quick and easy transformation towards positivity and getting unstuck.

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