It’s interesting. For most of the 20th century, the general consensus among neuroscientists was that the human brain remained unchanged from early childhood.
Now we know the opposite is true!
In fact, we now know that our brain remains plastic (that is, changeable) throughout our lives. These changes (called ‘neuroplasticity’) range from what we learn and grown, to how we respond to being hurt,
However, it turns out that there are things we can do to encourage that change, and make the changes good for us. In fact, extensive research points to certain keys to neuroplasticity, without which it is more difficult (and sometimes impossible) for the brain to change at all. In addition, there are aspects which can assist or enhance this changing process. Let’s look at them today.
Let’s look at what I like to call the “Three Keys to Neuroplasticity.”
Healthy adults need between 7 – 9 hours of sleep. Sleep is the only chance your brain gets to make sense out of all the stuff you have learned during the day! It is not wonder then, that young people (from babies to people going into their early twenties) need even more: 8.5 – 9.25 hours. In addition, while we’re sleeping, our brains also comb through all this new information to determine what we do and don’t need to remember. So as you can imagine, if we don’t get our sleep, things get very mentally messy.
New experiences change our brains! If we don’t know how to do something, the neural patterns obviously don’t exist. But when we DO decide to learn new things (a musical instrument, a new book, and new language, and new relationship, a new place to go, etc.), they stimulate our brain to change! And let’s face it, all it takes is to make a decision to do so.
3.) Focus and Attention
Paying close attention to what you are doing actually increases the neurotransmitters which are responsible to creating new neural connections. So put that iPhone down and focus on who you are with, or what is going on around you. In addition, many studies link focused attention to the thickness or density of the gray matter in your brain!
Two Enhancers to Neuroplasticity
In addition, here are two ways to enhance how much your brain can learn and grow and change!
Do you know the best way to keep your brain from aging? No…it’s not in your diet…or in exercise…or pills. It turns out that the best way of keeping our brains from aging is through relationships with other brains…i.e., people! Being socially connected actually diminishes stress, and it can even reduce inflammation and sickness. When we feel we are being heard and understood, our connective fibers in our brain actually get longer. So keep in touch with those you love, and encourage yourself to meet new people.
This is my favorite. Do you know what your brain does when you make those big bonehead mistakes, and you exclaim to yourself, “How could I have been so stupid?” It pipes up and exclaims, “I know! Do you remember that stupid thing you did yesterday, or that dumb thing you did last week, or last month?”
And then do you know what we do? We get out this mental list and start going down the list to remember all the mistakes we’ve made.
But dear reader, listen to this! As you remember those mistakes, your brain doesn’t know that you made them a week ago, or a month ago, or a year ago. Your brain is recording those memories again…but this time as if they happened when? RIGHT NOW! And then you’re carrying that stuff around.
Now here is some wonderful news. (And I always get teary-eyed when I share this with my audience.) YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT ANYMORE. STARTING WHEN? RIGHT NOW!
So what do you do instead? First, throw away the list. (Learn from your mistake so you won’t do it again), but you don’t need the list.
And then use three wonderful words: The Next Time! “The next time I’ll do it this way, “ or “The next time I’ll do it that way.” And when you say “The Next Time,” you are saying that you are still learning and growing and changing, but part of that is making mistakes. But just became you have failed does not mean you are a failure. In fact, when you read the biographies of incredibly successful people, It is astounding how often they have also failed.
When Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 999 times looking for the filament of a light bulb, he exclaimed, “I did NOT failed 999 times! I simply found 999 ways that didn’t work!”