Neuroplasticity: What It Is & How to Harness Its Power for Your Benefit
In this podcast (episode #426) and blog, I talk about neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to respond to the mind. This podcast is part 7 of my series on the different parts of the mind and brain.
As mentioned in my previous podcasts on this topic, The Difference Between the Nonconscious, Subconscious & Conscious Mind (part 1), How to Tap Into the Nonconscious Mind to Unwire Trauma & Toxic Thinking Habits (part 2), How to Listen to & Learn from Your Mental & Physical Warning Signals (part 3), The Difference Between Thoughts & Memories (part 4), What is the Mind? (part 5), and How to Make Intrusive Thoughts Work for You, Not Against You(part 6), when you consciously engage the nonconscious mind through deliberate, intentional, strategic, and proactive deep thinking, you draw your thoughts, with their embedded memories, through the subconscious mind and into the conscious mind. When these thoughts arrive in the conscious mind, they’re in a malleable state, which means you can change them and reconceptualize them—you can change the way they impact your life.
But how exactly does the mind change the brain?
Thirty years ago, I set out to answer a question that was considered at the time to be ridiculous: “can the mind change the brain?” Back in the eighties many scientists believed that a damaged brain could not change. Healthcare and therapy professionals like myself were taught to help their patients compensate for brain disabilities and mental ill health; total recovery was, for the most part, out of the question.
At the time, I was part of the initial research on neuroplasticity (brain change). Based on my own research and practice, where I worked with individuals suffering from learning disabilities, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and mental ill-health, and my experience as an educator and trainer in schools in South Africa, I witnessed, time and time again, the power of the brain to change. I have seen how frequent, positive, and challenging learning experiences can actually increase intelligence in a relatively short amount of time!
As it turned out, the ridiculous was actually true! Today, there is an increasing body of evidence that the brain changes according to our environment and experiences. The anatomy and physiology of the human brain is much more malleable and plastic than we once thought.
This is incredibly hopeful! It means that although we can’t change what has happened to us, what can change how what happened to us plays out within us, and within our lives.
And we can do this through directed mind management or self-regulation. As I discuss in my book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle, the mind and brain are neuroplastic, which means they can change. We can never erase what has happened to us, as much as we may want to—it is part of our story. But we can redefine the role something plays in our life through changing our thinking, feeling and choosing (our mind-in-action). We can learn how to reconceptualize what has happened to us, which is to view a memory from a new perspective so we no longer feel overwhelmed or trapped when we think about something that previously caused us emotional distress.
As more and more of us are struggling with anxiety, intrusive thoughts, depression, fear, and toxic ruminations that cause all sorts of mental health problems, we need this message now more than ever. But true change requires action and application, and both of these are driven by our mind. The state our mind is in affects how it functions, which determines what and how we absorb, apply, and put our thinking into action.
When we know how to change our mind, we rewire neural networks in the brain that create useful, sustainable, and automatized actions and attitudes—good habits that make us happier and healthier. We get from good advice to a good life with our mind, which is why I use the term mind-management. Thinking, feeling, and choosing (also known as our mind-in-action) precedes all communication; all we say and do is always preceded by a thought. The process is so logical that we hardly “think” about it, but it’s worth taking the time to do so. It’s so obvious that we miss it because we often looking for some elusive, complex key. Our mind is staring us in the face, and mind-management is therefore a critical skill we need to learn. With directed mind input, or what I call “mind-management”, we can learn how to shift and direct neuroplastic changes in our brain!
It is important to remember that how we react or respond to various life situations and the world around us is called mind-in-action. The mind-in-action is how you uniquely think, feel, and choose. This changes the way our brain functions, our biochemistry, and the genes associated with mental and physical health, which is why mind-management is essential— and a skill to be learned. You, with your mind that is always in action, are the change agent. Correct mind-management means responding in a way that builds healthy neural networks rather than simply react- ing and building toxic neural networks. You can be a “first responder” in every and all situations.
Everything we do begins with a thought. If we want to change anything in our lives, we first have to change our thinking, which means changing our mind!
For more on neuroplasticity, listen to my podcast (episode #426), and check out my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and app Neurocycle. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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2:05 What neuroplasticity is & why it is so important
4:20, 7:35 Traumatic brain injuries & neuroplasticity
10:58 The mind can change the brain!
13:00 The relationship between neuroplasticity & learning
14:45 How negative experiences can affect the brain
15:30 Why we need to deconstruct & reconstruct our thoughts
19:30 The power of reconceptualization
19:46 Neuroplasticity also affects the body!
20:50 Why your past doesn’t have to be your destiny!
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.