neuroplasticity: train your brain for success by rewiring your neural pathways and synapses {it’s really easy}..

Change your mind, change your brain, change your life. I’ve posted about brain elasticity and neuroplasticity before: Harness the Power of Your Mind .  An interesting fact from Ted Talk in that post: Your mind thinks you have already accomplished a goal if you share it with someone out loud and they acknowledge it. Crazy, right? Imagine the possibilities if you master some of these little golden nuggets about our brain?!  Below, I’m sharing 2 more articles because it’s such a fascinating, life-changing process (without brain games and apps). Imagine the possibilities!

First is an article I read 3 or 4 years ago on Big Think and printed a copy. That came to mind when I read the more recent article on Hubpage (article #2). The Hubspot is very informative and includes food recommendations (which I like), but doesn’t include supporting documentation. However, I found another post on Hubpages and it appears that the bulk of the article comes from the research in this shorter version (there also additional resources to check out from that link).

Hope this information is helpful and transformative..

xo

Reese

How to Rewire Your Brain for Success {Big Think}

Until the 1980s, the scientific consensus was that the nervous system was fixed and incapable of regeneration. Growth of neurons was considered most active during prenatal development. As we age, neurons atrophy, the thinking went. Now scientists believe new neurons are continually born throughout adulthood.

Several breakthrough studies suggest that we may have more control over how our brains function and develop throughout adulthood—our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions—than previously assumed.

Why does this matter? Because by learning how to control our mentality, we may be able to deliberately reshape our neural pathways and rewire our brains to make ourselves more successful and fulfilled. In other words, shape your brain and you can shape your life.

Practice and Thinking Rewire the Brain

In 2007, Harvard Medical School conducted a study with volunteers in a lab who were asked to learn and practice a five-finger piano exercise. A neuroscientist instructed half of the volunteers to play as fluidly as they could, trying to keep to the metronome’s 60 beats per minute, two hours a day for five days. The other half were instructed to merely think about practicing the piano, holding their hands still while playing the music in their heads. At the end of the five days, both groups underwent a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation test, which enabled scientists to infer the function of neurons.  

The test results showed that in both groups, the stretch of motor cortex devoted to these finger movements took over surrounding areas. The finding was in line with a growing number of discoveries showing that greater use of a particular muscle causes the brain to devote more cortical growth to it. Practice rewires the brain. More startling, however, was that the same region of the brain had expanded in the volunteers who merely thought about playing in a disciplined way.

There are two big implications here: 1.) that mental training may have the power to change the physical structure of the brain, and 2.) that the brain doesn’t distinguish between a real or imagined exercise.

The Downside of Neuroplasticity

In neuroscience, the previous prevailing belief had been that the adult human brain is essentially “hardwired,” so that by the time we reach adulthood we are stuck with what we have. Now we understand that the adult brain retains impressive powers of “neuroplasticity”—the ability to change its structure and function in response to experiences real or imagined.

The downside of neuroplasticity is that negative experiences can have a deleterious effect on our brains. Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neuroendocrinology at Stanford University, has shown that stress is associated with neural degeneration. His research found that long-term stressful life experiences cause elevated production of cortisol, which results in the shrinking of the hippocampus area of the brain. The hippocampus is one of the few regions of the brain known to be able to produce new neurons, a process called neurogenesis.

What’s the Significance?

How to Apply These Concepts in Business

We can use these new findings about the brain to help us become better performers at work, more successful in our business dealings, and more fulfilled professionally. By consistently training our thoughts, like those imaginary piano players, we can expand the number of branches and synaptic connections in our hippocampus, potentially leading to an increased ability to retain new information and adapt to new situations. Here are a few practical ways to apply these concepts.

Control your environment.

Because our brain cannot distinguish between real and imagined practice, if we subject ourselves to 30 minutes of watching sensationalized news stories, or find ourselves listening to a 30-minute dose of complaining and gossiping with those people around us, the effect on the brain is the same as if we had lived those experiences ourselves. The good news, according to Sapolsky, is that the negative effects of excessive stress can not only be stopped, but also reversed “once the source, psychological or physical, is removed or sufficiently reduced.” Limit your exposure to negativity by staying away from people, environments, and sources that are negative.

Resist the urge to use self-defeating language. We’ve all experienced a colleague saying, “You look tired.” All the air goes out of our sails and suddenly we feel tired and depleted as we respond, “Yeah, I guess I’ve been under a lot of stress lately.” We do the same thing to ourselves. If you don’t feel well, never say it aloud to anyone. Instead, say, “I could use more energy.” Also avoid the use of limiting words. Never say cannot when referring to yourself. Instead, reach for a higher-energy statement such as “When I can…” Other limiting words include hopefully, perhaps, one day, and maybe.

Begin and end all communications positively. Today this is especially important when using electronic media, as your messages live in cyberspace forever and continue to define you. It’s imperative that the last thing you type is a positive word leading to positive thoughts. Try “Cheers” or “Best” or “Keep smiling.” Your brain reaps the benefit of this positive thought, and the recipient gets an upbeat impression of you. It’s a twofer.

Begin and end your day positively. Before you go to sleep at night, thank yourself for a great day. When you wake up, the first words in your head should be something like, “I feel absolutely fantastic, glad to be alive. I know today will be successful for me.”

Make use of superlatives. In business, we are supposed to be subdued. But when someone asks you how you are, notice the difference between saying, “I’m fine,” and “I feel absolutely amazing and vibrantly healthy.” Using superlatives bumps your energy to a higher level.

Think bigger than what you actually desire. If all you really want is to land a specific client, by setting this as your intention and thinking of it every day, you will no doubt get it. But if you set your intentions much larger than your core desire—say, to acquire ten new significant clients this year—you trigger several positive psychological benefits. As you daydream and imagine a larger scenario, your core desire starts to feel easy and much more attainable.

A simple way to apply the science of neurogenesis is to be conscious and consistent in thinking positive, proactive thoughts—about your potential, your dreams, your goals, and your achievements. Taking control of your thoughts in this way will help you actually become that accomplished, positive person.

In his new book, Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life (BenBella, 2012) , Trevor Blake outlines recent evidence for neuroplasticity and offers several ways to defend oneself against effects of negative stimuli in our everyday environment. 

 

Brain Training: Improve Your Neuroplasticity With These 9 Easy Steps {Hubpages}

What is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity or Brain Plasticity is the ability of the brain to form new neural pathways or synapses. In layman’s terms, consider that your neural pathways are like roads or highways on which information travels to and from areas of the cerebral cortex for storage and recall. Neural pathways allow you recall and store information on anything and everything: from what things are, to how to do things, to memories and other processes such as creativity.

The more we use a certain piece of information or a skill set, the greater that neural pathway becomes; think of it as a multi-lane expressway. Information we rarely use and skills that we allow to dwindle, experience a corollary decline in the neural pathways leading to those areas of the brain where that information is seldom used is stored, similar to becoming an overgrown dirt road. Eventually, with lack of use, the brain will clear away the unused neural pathways in a process called synaptic pruning.

Every time we learn something new, our brain structure changes; new neural pathways (synapses) are created to store and retrieve this new information. This is the brain’s amazing plasticity, the quality of being easily shaped or molded. Our ongoing ability to create and retrieve new information is critical to man’s ability to successfully respond to alterations in the environment. As we learn new skills and information, our brain structure physically changes; transformations which are observable on MRIs.

Synaptic Pruning – Uncluttering the Brain

Synaptic pruning is the process whereby the brain recycles resources from old, unused neural connections, by shutting them down, and then diverting these resources to strengthen neural pathways that are in high demand. In order to focus resources on those areas of the brain that we use regularly, it prunes back those synapses (neural pathways) that are not in use.

One unfortunate example of synaptic pruning illustrates how the process works. In this instance, a newborn baby’s cornea was scratched during the birth process; a patch was applied over the scratched eye for a week to allow it to heal without light.

The child’s brain perceived that this eye was no longer in use, while the other eye was functioning properly. The child’s brain closed down all neural pathways to the injured and patched eye, believing that it no longer served a purpose, and diverted its resources to the “good” eye. After the patch was removed, the child had lost all ability to see out of the previously injured eye. The child’s brain had “pruned” away all pathways from receiving information from that eye, as a result the child was permanently blind in the temporarily patched eye.

Early Brain Development and Plasticity

In a newborn human child, there are approximately 2,500 synapses for each neuron in the cerebral cortex. By three years old, the synapses per neuron have increased dramatically to approximately 15,000. However by adulthood, the number has decreased to around 7000-8000 due to synaptic pruning.

Young children have high neuroplasticity, as they are constantly and eagerly absorbing information from their surroundings and learning new tasks. This is why young children learn second languages more easily than do adults attempting to learn a second language for the first time. Children’s brains are in a growth phase, regularly generating new neural pathways or synapses. As we age this process slows, and appears to reverse.

However, the exciting reality is that new synapses can be created at any time in life simultaneously with synaptic pruning.

Increasing Neuroplasticity as We Age

A study of randomly chosen individuals age 57-71 showed improved brain function after just 12 hours of strategic brain training exercises. Using MRIs of the participants brains both before and after, researchers saw upwards of an 8% improvement in blood flow and other indices that indicate improved brain function.

Improved brain function included improved ability to strategize, remember and draw big-picture conclusions from lengthy texts of information.

Remarkably, in a follow up study using MRIs again on the participants, researchers found that the benefits derived from the single training session were still in place one year later. Enhanced synaptic plasticity means that we can think faster, listen better, respond to situations faster and concentrate with greater focus. Creativity is enhanced as well.

We can’t always control the sources of our stress, but we can control how our bodies respond to external stresses.

The Brain’s Enemies!

Outside of toxins and injuries, stress is the greatest enemy of the brain. Prolonged stress results in increased levels of Cortisol and Adrenaline, which cause a variety of malfunctions across the human system. Cortisol alone can encourage weight gain, impede neuron development and increase synaptic pruning across all neural pathways. Stress can actually cause brain damage.

The body cannot build new or replace dead neurons when it is in a constant state of stress. Under prolonged periods of stress, more than one hour, the brain begins to prune back the number of branches and synaptic connections of hippocampal neurons. As the stress continues, these conditions also increase the rate of cell death in this region of the brain, resulting in a reduced capacity for contextual memory.

We can’t always control the sources of our stress, but we can control how our bodies respond to external stresses.

Growing Your Brain | How It Works

We can increase our brain’s neuroplasticity at any time in our lives. By simply staying engaged in new activities, learning new skills and interacting with other people, we see beneficial effects across the brain’s structure.

The trick is to challenge yourself to think in new ways and about new things. Even activities such a juggling, tango dancing and 3 dimension puzzles challenge the brain by making simultaneous demands on both hemispheres, known as whole brain thinking.

The key to neuroplasticity is to learn new things every day. Regular learning changes the brain’s structure, improves our speed of thought, decision making abilities and comprehension of events as they occur around us. In other words, what flows through your mind, sculpts your brain. Many of these tips can also help you reduce your stress levels, which is critical to healthy cognitive function.

The Left Brain versus the Right Brain

Functions of the Left and Right Hemispheres of the Brain
Functions of the Left and Right Hemispheres of the Brain

Tip #1 Engage in New Challenges and Develop “Whole Brain Thinking”

When faced with something that seems unfamiliar or difficult, go for it. Dive in, and attempt to master a new technique, language, computer program, hobby or physical activity. In particular try to find activities that employ both hemispheres of the brain, known as whole brain thinking.

In the diagram above you see the activities managed by each side of the brain. The right hemisphere reasons holistically, meaning it is responsible for recognizing patterns and interpreting emotions and nonverbal expressions. In contrast, the left hemisphere controls logical thought processes such as sequencing, analytical thought and detailed object perception.

For example, the left hemisphere reads words sequentially from left to right. While the left side of the brain is decoding each word, the right hemisphere is interpreting the contextual meaning of the words simultaneously. The right hemisphere allows us to see many things at once and create a holistic picture of the details gathered by the left hemisphere.

In addition, the left hemisphere controls the ride side of the body, and the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. This is why ambidextrous activities such as juggling and playing musical instruments enhance whole brain thinking.

By learning and practicing activities that force us to use both hemispheres, we continually become more adept at whole brain thinking. MRIs reveal that learning to play a new musical instrument or a learning a new language, computer or spoken, increases the size of the engaged areas of the brain.

Ultimately this new capacity spills over into other areas of our lives. Whole brain thinking lights up creativity, improves physical coordination and heightens instincts and intuition.

Tip # 2 Practice Focused Attention

When you fully focus your attention on objects, events, new information or conversations, neuroplasticity is heightened. Focused attention, in contrast to “listening with one ear,” sucks information into the brain.

Pay close attention to the details of your environment and nuances in conversation. When presented with new information, reflect on what you have learned and try to remember the important points or aspects of the new information. Each new tidbit of information creates new neural pathways in the brain. Reflecting on and remember the information strengthens the new neural pathway.

Tip # 3 Explore with Childlike Wonder

Exploration is an attitude towards experiencing one’s environment. Rather than just moving from point A to point B; exploration challenges us to investigate our surroundings.

If you like to walk or bike ride for exercise, choose new locations for your outings. Pay attention to the details of the path, the flora and the people you come across. Engage these new people you encounter with a smile or a nod as you pass by. Visit new areas and travel if possible.

If you travel, you may have noticed that you seem more exhausted than you might normally feel at home at the end of each day. Travel challenges us to absorb substantial detail while exploring new environments. While traveling, try to adopt the customs and practices of those you encounter during your journey. Explore historical sites, different religious centers and museums. Take guided tours, and remember to focus your attention fully while exploring.

Tip # 4 Exercise 3-4 days a week for 30-45 Minutes Per Session

Adding moderate exercise to your routine improves not only improves our physical condition, but our brains benefit as well. Exercise improves circulation and reduces stress, thereby improving blood flow and oxygen to the brain. The brain uses a remarkable 20% of the oxygen we take into our bodies. Even just walking for 30-45 minutes will improve blood and oxygen flow to the brain, aiding neuroplasticity.

Remember, taking in the scenes during your walk and noticing the details and changes in the neighborhood, encourages whole brain thinking. Walking or biking and even working out in a gym while watching an information program on the television packs a powerful two fold punch in brain function improvement.

Tip # 5 Protect Your Brain – Learn to Meditate

Meditation is a great stress reliever, and it has many interesting beneficial effects on the actual brain’s structure.

Meditation increases the thickness and strength of the frontal cortex of the brain. As we age the frontal cortex decreases in size; studies show that those who meditate experience less of this decrease in the frontal cortex.

Meditation is known to reduce stress and cortisol in the system. It also boosts the immune system.

If you don’t know how to meditate, there are CDs available that will guide you through the process. With the assistance of electronic sounds and music, the listener’s brain is taken into alpha wave patterns, then down to the theta wave patterns (which we employ in dreams and memory) and finally down to delta wave patterns (the patterns of dreamless sleep).

Tip # 6 Develop Stimulating Friendships

As we age, we tend to seek out those things we are familiar with, including friends. One of the more enjoyable tasks in improving neuroplasticity is making new stimulating friendships.

Joining groups with a common interest such as a book club, bird watching group or travel group can lead to stimulating friendships centered on the exchange of new ideas and a shared appreciation of the activity.

Teaching, sharing and empathizing are all activities that boost new neural development. Empathizing, the art of mirroring the emotions of another, and compassion encourage our brains to explore new emotions and perspectives, which in turn enhance neuroplasticity.

Tip # 7 Laugh Often

As mentioned earlier, prolonged stress is the enemy of the brain. To be truly effective, brain training requires that the individual be in a positive mindset. Few things help us change our frame of mind better than a good laugh.

Laughter has a natural healing capacity. It reduces stress and produces an overall sense of well being. Laughter can move us into a positive frame of mind prior to beginning any brain training exercises. Furthermore, laughing to mentally challenging and complex humor involving paradoxes and surprise turns of phrases amps up the increases in neuroplasticity as well.

Tip # 8 Water and Feed Your Brain to Make It Grow!

If you want to think faster, be more creative and live life to the fullest, you will want to begin by feeding your brain good nutrients. While the brain weighs on average only 2% of our total body weight, it consumes up to 20% of the nutrients we take into our bodies.

Studies have shown these following foods have the maximum beneficial effects of our brains.

  • Walnuts and raw almonds are great for the brain and delicious to eat. Substitute almond milk in your breakfast cereal to jump start your brain for the rest of the day.
  • Jolly Green Giants – leafy dark green vegetables such as kale, spinach, collards and even romaine lettuce slow the rate of cognitive decline.
  • Dark Chocolate – the flavanoids contained in dark chocolate improve circulation which helps speed oxygen to the brain.
  • Monosaturated Fats, such as olive oil actually slow down brain aging. Enjoy avocados, another source of monosaturated fats; they improve vascular health and circulation.
  • Eat more cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Studies have shown that people who eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens have a slower rate of cognitive decline.
  • Indulge in foods rich with Omega 3’s such as salmon, sardines, lentils and flax seed.
  • Eat more berries; the more colorful the fruit, the better it is for your body. Enjoy at least one serving of fruit a day.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to impaired cognitive function.

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