What you think and do often shapes your brain. Find out what neuroplasticity is and how it works to create lasting positive changes in your mind and life.
The greatest power on earth is the magnificent power we, all of us, possess… the power of the human brain! – Professor Xavier (X-men).
Granted, Professor Xavier might have had an advantage with his mutant powers and all, but he was onto something.
That brain of yours is an incredibly complex machine with a remarkable ability to reorganize itself and adapt to life’s circumstances. And it’s really, really good at it.
But, sometimes, that adaptive function can work against us. The behaviors developed by the brain to survive a stressful situation in the past (trauma, criticism, etc.) can also make us hyper-alert and keep us trapped in a loop of negativity, anxiety, and stress, even when the threat is gone.
And the more we repeat those behaviors or thoughts, the more we reinforce their related brain connections. This has tremendous consequences for our well-being and quality of life.
The good news is that our brains can change! And, unlike any other animal, we humans have the distinct capacity to train our minds deliberately.
The magic of neuroplasticity offers exciting potential to rewire our brains and reinvent ourselves. It can help us recover from trauma, deal with anxiety and stress, and improve focus, learning, and sleep, among many other benefits.
But first things first. What is neuroplasticity?
What is Neuroplasticity and How Does it Work?
Neuroplasticity (aka brain plasticity) refers to the brain’s innate ability to rewire itself in response to our thoughts, behaviors, and experiences.
Your brain is constantly rearranging its connections and creating new ones, and the more you repeat a thought or action, the stronger the connections associated with it get.
For example, let’s say you are learning how to play guitar. At first, the experience can be hard or uncomfortable. Your brain isn’t used to doing it. But as you keep practicing, the related neural connections will get stronger, and playing guitar will become easier and take less energy.
This is how habits are built, by repeating an action over and over until it becomes the default setting.
This goes for bad things as well: if you are in a car accident, chances are next time you’re in a car you’ll feel stressed, anxious, and afraid. This is because your amygdala (responsible for processing strong emotions) has been conditioned to induce a certain response to that trigger, and every time you relive that, your brain will reinforce the neural connections that generate it.
Simply put, as our thoughts, behaviors, and experiences change, so do our brains. And whatever you put on your mind today (be it good or bad) will sculpt your brain of tomorrow.
This is why it’s crucial that you pay attention to the kind of mindset you are engraving into your brain.
Benefits of Neuroplasticity
Brain plasticity is a science-based approach to creating meaningful and lasting changes in our lives. And the benefits are off the charts.
Here are some things that you can achieve through neuroplasticity exercises.
- Break old patterns of thought/behavior
- Create new, healthier habits
- Manage and reduce stress and anxiety
- Recover from trauma
- Reduce restlessness and overthinking
- Deal with insecurities, OCD, and negativity
- Enhance cognitive skills (memory, attention, focus)
- Build willpower and discipline
How to Rewire your Brain
Rewiring your brain may sound complicated and intimidating, but rest assured, you can do it, although it will require consistency, determination, and sitting through the initial discomfort of trying something new.
Now that you know what brain plasticity is and how it works, you can apply this information through brain exercises and purposefully create new neural pathways to go in the direction that you want.
There are many science-based tools to train your brain, and they look more familiar than you might think.
Here are some examples of exercises to train your mind:
- Meditation & Mindfulness – Meditating can literally change your brain. It has been proven to increase gray matter, calm down the amygdala, slow brain aging, and improve emotional regulation. It produces functional and structural changes in the brain, helping you reframe your thoughts, and making you better able to handle difficult situations, not to mention the huge boost in focus and attention.
- Breathwork – Breathing exercises help reduce stress, anxiety, depression and anger, release trauma, and improve sleep. They also increase energy levels and boost the immune system, among other benefits.
- Embodiment exercises – Activities like Yoga, Yin Yoga, and Nidra Yoga (aka mindrest) help release trauma, relieve chronic stress patterns, increase brain and hippocampus volume, improve cognitive skills, increase self-awareness, relax the mind, center attention, create mental clarity, and sharpen concentration.
- Learning a new skill – Although it can be uncomfortable at first, learning something new hugely increases your brain’s ability to rewire itself.
- Physical exercise – Exercise and neuroplasticity go hand in hand. On top of the well-known physical and psychological benefits, exercising has been shown to increase gray and white matter in the brain, improve functional connectivity and nerve growth, and trigger biochemical changes that spur neuroplasticity.
As you can see, there are no magic formulas or complicated exercises. You’ve probably practiced some of these activities before. Just make sure that, when you embark on the conscious journey of changing your brain, you’re well advised.
As neuroscientist Sara Lazar explained: “The most important thing (…) is to find a good teacher. Because it’s simple, but it’s also complex. You have to understand what’s going on in your mind. A good teacher is priceless.”
What we think about really matters. Whatever thoughts and experiences you repeat will shape the future you, quite literally.
Through neuroplasticity exercises, you can deliberately rewire your brain and create new connections to induce positive changes in your life.
There are many tools you can use to tap into the power of neuroplasticity, most (if not all) of which you’ve probably heard of or even practiced before. Changing your brain doesn’t require complicated techniques, but it does require practice and discipline if you want to create lasting results.
One last piece of advice: make sure to find a good teacher to guide you through the whole process, and the results will speak for themselves.
For guided neuroplasticity exercises for depression, anxiety, and a lot more, check out our programs, and stay tuned for more articles on science-based stress reduction and healing.