For centuries, humans and scientists have agreed that the brain develops until adulthood (at the most until we’re 25) and that is that. We thought it could only change after this if it is injured or diseased. Turns out we’re all wrong. The brain continues to adapt and develop throughout our whole lives. This happens when we go through physical changes, psychological changes, emotional changes, relationship changes, changes in beliefs, behaviour, health, education, travel, hobbies, talents, skills, reading material, diet and the list goes on. Basically, a LOT of things can affect our brain’s structure and function and this is called “Neuroplasticity”.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life. This can happen in different ways, e.g.: brain activity associated with a specific function can be transferred to a different location, the proportion of grey matter can change i.e. physical size of the brain can increase or decrease in certain places, and synapses (electric signals throughout brain) may strengthen or weaken over time.
Take this example, while your own brain processes that information…
As taxis in London can be hailed in the street and asked to go anywhere, taxi drivers must know the routes like the back of their hand. This is why they must learn and pass the world-famous ‘Knowledge’. Studies have looked into this and found that the Hippocampi (aka the heart of the brain) is vital in this process and research has observed that this area of the brain physically grows, once the ‘Knowledge’ has been completed. This is evidence that “brain training” not only improves our cognitive functioning, but it literally grows the physical structure of our brains, also.
The hippocampus is within the Limbic System and is where our feelings and reactions come from. It is also where short-term memories are turned into long-term memories before they are stored elsewhere. Research shows that activity in the hippocampus affects memory and pathfinding, but also can improve functions such as vision, hearing, and touch. This research is new, but it suggests that if we strengthen our hippocampus by completing tasks to do with routes/pathfinding, we can improve our memory, direction, vision and hearing. This research may also have implications for the treatment of neuro-degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
Our brain is everything. We know we can change our brain and you may have heard the phrase ‘brain training’. This may lead to think of weightlifting and building muscle, if so, you’re right. When we repeat a thought, emotion or behaviour the neural pathway that it is associated with in our brain, strengthens, the “muscle” grows. The more we train the muscle, the more it grows. Then something really cool happens, the brain chooses the stronger muscle to flex. So you can train yourself to be optimistic by repeating positive thoughts and behaviours over and over and eventually, your brain will naturally switch to optimism.
Stay tuned, because I’ll be launching some behaviour change challenges which work on the concept of neuroplasticity…the first one is a gratitude challenge and is launching Monday 9th December.