With red eyes, brimming with tears, his voice broke as he choked out these words, “I was raised in a culture that does not treat women respectfully, and now I’ve lost my wife. I believed those cultural lies for so many years that it’s just too late to make a change, and it’s too late to save my marriage.”
He looked startled when I reached over and picked up an empty water bottle from the table, and crushed it with one hand, making quite a loud noise. Then I spoke with great conviction, “You can change what goes on in your brain almost as easily as I just crushed this water bottle. Because the neuroplasticity in your brain is a lot like this plastic bottle that I could crush. Don’t allow old beliefs to lie to you! It’s never too late!”
I hear that kind of “hogwash” all the time. Despite the fact that we have known about the neuroplasticity of our brains since the 1950s, people still believe that we are the way we are, and we cannot do anything about it. I do not normally use critical or harsh words like “hogwash“… But I use it here to alarm your brain into hearing something about itself that you need it to know!
You are not too young, too old, too set in your ways. You are not an old dog that cannot learn new tricks. You are not powerless over your cultural beliefs, nor what you’ve been taught that is not serving you.
You can begin the process of changing your brain (wiring and/or rewiring it) at any moment you decide to do so! My goal this week is to challenge you to begin RIGHT NOW!
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to learn, to memorize, and to flex or alter mental and behavioral processes. It’s actually our ability to remodel our brains. It means we all have the ability to change dysfunctional behaviors (addictions, self sabotage, etc.); dysfunctional patterns of thinking (it’s too late, I will always be this way, there’s just no hope, etc.); and/or developing empowering mindsets, memorizing new things, developing new skills, and using our incredible creative processes.
This is not just for the rich and famous, just for kids and teenagers, just for males or females. It is available to every single one of us. Regardless of where we are in life, regardless of our background, culture, education or experiences, and regardless of our success levels, educational accomplishments, or any other factor. It is available to 100% of us, 100% of the time.
Dr. Celeste Campbell, a neuropsychologist who has been in practice for over 25 years says “from the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains are things we organize in response to our changing needs.“
Another scientist who has conducted extensive brain research says this, “It may be possible to carve out a fresh path for your thoughts to travel upon. We can speculate that this process opens its ability to reinvent yourself and move away from the status quo. Hard wired fear-based memories often lead to avoidance behavior that can hold you back from living life to your fullest.”
“The Road Less Traveled,“ a book by Scott Peck, and a song by Lauren Alaina, both tout the great benefit of choosing a higher path rather than the status quo. Those who make a decision to understand the power of re-wiring, re-programming their brains, are those who desire to live life to its fullness. We really can create new neural pathways that are roads less traveled, that catapult us into the greatest life we were created to have. The greatness of that life is only limited by our dedication to training, wiring, and re-wiring our brains.
Research has shown this to be effective in a multiple of settings and with many conditions. For example, it has been shown effective in rehab for stroke therapy, overcoming depression and anxiety, overcoming addiction, overcoming trauma, dealing with chronic pain, and helping with ADHD, OCD, and autism. Not to mention the quality of our every day lives!
You may be a lot like me when I first heard of these concepts. You may be thinking, “Well that all sounds fine and dandy, but how on earth do I do that? Does it require a lobotomy or brain surgery?” LOL!
The truth is, it requires three things that I would like to list and expound upon:
1. The willingness to embrace and harness the power of wiring and/or re-wiring of our brains, along with the self-discipline, determination, and commitment to the process.
2. Avoiding those things that hinder the neuroplasticity in our brains.
3. Regularly practicing those things that promote the neuroplasticity in our brains.
Let’s consider each of the three:
1. Embracing and harnessing the power of wiring and/or re-wiring our brains, with self-discipline, determination, and commitment.
To begin with, you must embrace this fact: Our brains are absolutely capable of extraordinary change! While the steps are as easy as crushing an empty plastic water bottle, it requires intentionality, consistency, and lifestyle changes.
2. Avoiding those things that interfere with neuroplasticity. Here are some of those things that interfere, halt and or slow the brains neuroplasticity:
* Severe and/or ongoing stress. Research indicates that stress can actually kill brain cells
* Untreated depression. When we are depressed, we develop deep grooves of dark thoughts that create a repetitive cycle downward.
* Untreated anxiety. When we are anxious, we develop strong pathways to fearful thought patterns that create a spiral of panic and panic attacks.
* Untreated posttraumatic stress disorder. When we live with PTSD, we develop patterns of fear and sadness that erupt with multiple triggers at any given moment. These can be reprogrammed.
* Lack of commitment. When we camp out “on the fence,” our brain resources are used up for balance, and become unavailable to new neural pathways.
* Low risk tolerance. All of us would prefer to live in our “comfort zone.” However, living in comfort keeps our neural pathways dormant and “stuck.”
* Alcohol intake. (Don’t throw stones!) Research indicates that more than one or two beers or glasses of wine per day more than 2-3 days a week weaken and/or halt the neuroplasticity in our brains. Hard liquor is worse.
* Marijuana use. Research indicates that all marijuana use slows and/or halts the neuroplasticity of our brains. The more often it is used, the more danger of it not being restored,
* Drug use. Including some prescription drugs. Danger is the same as is with marijuana use, but more profound.
* Smoking (cigarettes, cigars, mushrooms, weed). Danger is the same as is with marijuana use.
3. Promoting neuroplasticity in brain health.
* Walking. Research shows that walking an hour a day, 5 to 7 days a week increases the release of BDNF. This is a chemical which sets in motion the growth of new neuro-connections and it bolsters the communication among brain cells.
* Becoming engaged in new activities. New activities, whether it be juggling, learning a new card game, or learning to program a computer all require an increase in neuro-connections, which enhance our neuroplasticity.
* Being in inspirational environments, such as church, an inspiring Ted talk or speech, or an inspiring movie.
* Meditation. Research has shown that focusing on something positive in the absence of interruption (cell phone, electronics, TV etc) promotes neuroplasticity.
* Developing a purpose for your life, or perhaps re-purposing your life. (For more info on my Power of Purpose (Or Repurposing Your Life, send us an email at Coachiing@DrNeecie.com. I can assure you people leave these day long programs with unlimited neuroplasticity!)
* Healthy eating, and ensuring that our brain has the necessary nutrients in order to renew itself are critical components to wire and/or rewiring your brain.
* Practicing relaxation techniques. For a quick relaxation vacation, click here to try one for free by my good friend, Tim Ringgold, a Certified Music Therapist.
* Breathing exercises. One of my favorites is this: breathe in to a quick count to 7 through your nose. To the same rhythm, hold it for the count of 14. Finally, to the same rhythm, let it out through your mouth very slowly to the count of 21. Take a few normal breaths, and repeat two more times. It literally takes toxins out of your brain, increasing neuroplasticity.
* Yoga. Any form of Yoga actually promotes neuroplasticity.
* Brian challenges. Crossword puzzles, sudoku, etc. These all promote neuroplasticity. However, exceeding 30 minutes daily actually has the opposite effect, so it’s not a case of the more, the better.
* Memorization. I began the habit of memorizing quotes and Scripture many years ago, and have found it very helpful in my brain transformation processes. Research says any sort of memorization has the same effect.
* Music. Last, but not least, research says that perhaps music is the most powerful source to increase neuroplasticity. Whether it’s learning to play an instrument, learning to sing, or dancing to music. I know it’s the great power source for me. Isn’t it interesting that we all learn lyrics easily, and years later, we can still sing every word of a song? It is a powerful force to our brain health!
Finally, I will give you an overview of the steps I recommend and use with my clients who want to make a change in thoughts, to change behavior, or do any other alterations to their brain:
1. Get very clear about the change you would like to make or the rewiring you would like to accomplish. For example, It is not adequate to say I would like to treat my wife better. Instead, it is important to get very clear and specific. instead: “I am determined to save my marriage by learning how to treat my wife respectfully, and let her know daily that she is cherished.“
Another example: it is not adequate to say I would like to drink less. Instead, It would be ideal to be clear and specific, like: “I want to consume less than two glasses of wine no more than two days a week in order to repair damage done to my brain. And to optimize the neuroplasticity of my brain.”
2. Once you are very clear about the change that you would like to make, it is first important to examine the thoughts, behaviors, and/or beliefs that drive what you are wanting to change. You may identify how your culture regards women. You may identify that the message you learned was, Women are about as valuable as the service they deliver to men.”
Or in the case of the second example, you may identify that you were taught that: “Wine is good for heart health so I’m just taking care of myself.“
You would need to debunk old beliefs in either example in order to move toward new behaviors that would support brain health and heal and restore neuroplasticity. In order to debunk this, i use some sort of scrambling process.
You can accomplish this by repeating the old belief in your best “Donald Duck” voice, again and again, while waddling around the room. You must do something vocal, and something active in order to dislodge the old thought/ belief. Anything that makes it look, feel, and sound ridiculous is the most powerful means.
3. You must take massive immediate action with new behaviors, and/or beliefs that would initiate the desired change. With my clients, I have them stand tall in their “power position“ and proclaim with great confidence what they will do in a powerful voice.
In the first example: “I am determined to save my marriage by learning how to treat my wife respectfully, and let her know daily that she is cherished.“
Or in the second example: “I will enjoy no more than two glasses of wine, no more than three days a week to rewire my quality of life beyond my greatest imagination!”
And repeat it until it establishes a new neuropathway. It is clear that it is accomplished when there is a look of peace and determination.
4. Set in motion and commit to new daily patterns and activities.
Massive immediate action is key.
None of this can be accomplished by sitting around thinking about it or contemplating it. It must be done with determination, with action, and it must start right now! Not after the next holiday, not when you retire, not at the beginning of next month. Massive immediate action is key!
Yes, in the case of the first example, the man who tearfully thought his marriage was over worked through this process. He built new neural pathways that were so remarkable, that he and his wife reconciled.
All real change begins in our neuro pathways. Our best life, our best versions of ourselves, and our greatest destinies begin with developing healthy neuro pathways.
Your destiny is not what life has dealt you. Your relationships are not what life has dealt you. Your finances and your career or not what life has dealt you. Every single thing about your life is what your neuro pathways have been developed to build (or destroy); to succeed with (or to fail with); to take to extraordinary places (or to settle for mediocrity).
It’s not too late. It’s not too early. You can begin to build powerful new neural pathways in your brain this very day! What you decide to do with this will affect your relationships, your young children, your adult children, your friends, your family. What you do with this information can be transformative to yourself, but also to others! Your best life is waiting for you! What are you waiting for?
An ancient Roman proverb says that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Your transformation, by the renewing of your mind and creating new neural pathways can begin today!
Will you join the road less traveled? The road of those who are willing to embrace and harness the power of our brains? Together, we can make a HUGE difference!