by Jayney Goddard MSc, FCMA, FRSM, FRSPH
While this sounds like the headline of a dodgy advert in the back of a 1950’s sci-fi magazine, it really is entirely possible to take steps to totally change the structure and function of your brain – to ‘re-wire’ it so that you become happier, mentally healthier and are able to express love, kindness and compassion for yourself and others more readily. Furthermore, by taking deliberate steps to develop your brain in positive ways, the research actually suggests that you’ll be more successful in life and work generally too.
The concept that I’m talking about is called “self-directed neuroplasticity” and this was derived from the researcher Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz in his book, “The Mind & The Brain” (Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force). Schwartz puts forth a compelling argument that you aren’t at the mercy of genetically-predetermined brain activity. Rather, you are in the driving seat because you play a decisive role in influencing your own brain’s structure and function by deciding where and how to focus your attention. You can do this by actively choosing what to think about. In his book, Dr Schwartz uses brain scans to prove the efficacy of self-directed neuroplasticity and these show how OCD patients, stroke victims, musicians, and more have used this approach to change their brains for the better.
Neuroplasticity (Neuro = nerve, Plasticity = changeable or malleable) is a term that describes how your brain is capable of constantly changing its internal shape, connections and functions in response to your environment, thinking, emotions, behavior, as well as injury.
Since we know that the brain remains plastic and ‘re-wires’ itself for our entire lives, self-directed neuroplasticity is a tool that we can use to consciously control how we want our brains to work. So, for example, if you want to increase your ability to feel and express happiness you might start a gratitude journal. You are ‘forcing’ your brain to behave in a certain way – for example in the case of keeping a gratitude journal your brain quickly adapts to experience and express a sense of gratitude more often and more readily. Similarly, anytime you learn a new skill (e.g. how to play a musical instrument), your brain structure and function changes and will adapt to whatever you challenge it with.
Everything that your brain is exposed to will have an influence upon it; your behaviours, environment, social group, sleep cycle, supplements, drugs, etc. By becoming aware of what influences your brain will help you to consciously change those influences that may be causing more detriment than harm. Here are some steps that you can take to harness the life changing power of self-directed neuroplasticity:
Ultimately, it is pretty simple to ‘Grow your own brain!’ It all boils down to understanding what you want – and then implementing changes to help you get what you desire – by changing your brain’s structure and function. I mentioned keeping a gratitude journal earlier – this is one of the most effective (and scientifically proven) methods of helping to self-direct your neuroplasticity so that your brain serves you better. And lastly, I strongly recommend learning loving kindness “Metta” meditation – another extremely powerful positive brain changer.
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