The Nuts and Bolts of Neuroplasticity

4 Principles to Make Positive Changes In Your Life

"A Transformed Mind Comes Before a Transformed Life." Joyce Meyer

Hello again. Overall it’s been a great week, other than the fact I fractured my ankle in two places. Way to go! Now I’m sportin’ an orthopedic boot and scootin’ around on a scooter. That scooter is a life-saver. I hope you had a great week too. I must admit that I had a few moments where I needed to really focus on some of these principles. Some old negative thought patterns popped up affecting my emotions, attitude and confidence, out of nowhere. I believe the ankle thing had something to do with that (being laid up and not being active – I am a very active person). But nonetheless, I was feeling a bit icky and down again (nothing to the degree I had experienced in previous times), though I was feeling out of sorts. The awesome thing was that it didn’t take me as long to rebound.  In the past, it could have taken me days or weeks to get over something because I would allow those thoughts to marinate in their juices. One of the issues I had was shame/regrets.  Oh the dangers of allowing shame to overshadow your thoughts. I was feeling bad about past “things” that I couldn’t do anything about anyway. That will be another blog.

I can’t stress enough about my excitement for neuroplasticity and how science and faith intersect. Keeping God’s design and faith engaged in every situation and remembering that His Word never fails, has been my saving grace. This whole process of learning how the brain works has led me to understand God is always in control. He gave us the tools to become what we were created to be, and to be over-comers. I believe it is our job to learn what these tools are and then USE them.

You don’t really need to understand how the brain works in order to overcome your issues. Your brain knows what to do with whatever you throw at it, negative or positive, unhealthy or healthy. It obeys your every command. This just helped me and I thought it might help you too. The key is to be consistent and intentional in your efforts. As a Christian, knowing God’s Word is the first and most important thing. But knowing how He designed us has let me see and understand just how awesome, wonderful and ever-present He is in our lives. He wants us to rely on Him for everything.

Recap from my last blog. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire and create new circuits at any age as the result of input from your environment and your conscious intentions – we can create a new level of mind at any age.

I would like to touch on two ideas today. 1. Hebb’s axiom. 2. Four principles of neuroplasticity. There are 10, but I will be discussing 4 of them.

Hebb’s axiom: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Each experience we encounter, whether a feeling, a thought, a sensation—and especially those that we are not aware of—is embedded in thousands of neurons that form a network (“net”). Repeated experiences become increasingly embedded in this net, making it easier for the neurons to fire (in response to the experience/thought), and more difficult to unwire or rewire them to respond differently. (Article: Being Known – Rewiring Your Mind: Insights for Practical Living: Neurons that fire together wire together by Curt Thompson, July 14, 2010). That’s how habits, skills, behaviors and personalities are formed.

This holds true for the opposite-“neurons that don’t fire together-don’t wire together.” (Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, Dr. Joe Dispenza). This piece of information is important to remember, because when you want to undo a habit, it takes time to unwire a neural net. When you don’t allow a thought or an emotion to “marinate in its juices”, or stop practicing a skill, those neural nets begin to break apart overtime. Those neurons can now be repurposed for another neural net- hopefully one can that will better serve you.

Principles of neuroplasticity: These principles are not new ideas. In fact we say some of them frequently. They are really common sense ideas. How they create neural patterns and other factors like neurochemicals released during a thought may not be commonly known or understood. That’s were things get interesting.
(In my next blog I will be discussing – neuro-chemical activity of thinking and why you want to be aware of your thoughts and their effects on your wellbeing.

I have applied these principles to train myself to be mindful of my thoughts and to be in the moment as well of other skills I want to improve in. Being mindful is a learned skill and is very effective in letting go of unwanted thoughts by learning how to release them as they enter my mind and focusing on the moment. When I do that, negative thinking is kept at bay and positive ones take their place. A big part of my mindful practice involves praying, reading and meditating on scripture dealing with a particular issue such as anxiety, fear, pride, love, compassion and humility. As negative thoughts pop up I immediately let them go and focus on praying, scripture, asking God for assistance to guide my thought life or being in the moment of whatever I’m doing. This week I slacked off with this practice of proper mindfulness. But I got back on the horse.

All of these principles tie in with each other as you will see.

Four Principles of Neuroplasticity

1. Use it or lose it – Failure to drive specific brain functions can lead to functional degradation.

If you stop practicing or using a particular skill, over time it can become rusty or you could lose it. Remember playing the piano as a kid? If you didn't stick with it, you probably can't play the piano now. The neuropathway for that ability diminished. That's what happened to me anyway. I lost that pathway. But most likely it wasn't very developed to begin with. Not enough neurons wired together for playing the piano. Currently for me, this principle involved taking time to practice mindfulness (anywhere from 10-30 minutes a day) and incorporating it throughout the day. I had slacked off doing this practice daily and old thoughts crept back in. This is a needed habit for me to maintain so old thoughts won't take over again, like weeds in your garden. Everything begins with a thought.

2. Use it and improve it – Training that drives a specific brain function can lead to an enhancement of that function.

If you want to be good at something, for example, playing the piano, speaking another language or excelling at something in your profession you need to use that skill regularly in order to get better at it. The more I practice mindfulness the better I will be at it.

3. Repetition Matters – Induction of plasticity requires sufficient repetition.

Do whatever it is you're learning over and over again. It takes time to build strong neuropathways. Practice, practice, practice.

4. Intensity Matters – Induction of plasticity requires sufficient training.

Focused training/learning over multiple hours. Think of someone training for a Cirque de Soleil performance or the Olympics. Now that's intense training. I'm getting tired just thinking about it. Making neuroplastic changes requires intense training over time.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (English Standard Version).

In other words, changes occur overtime. It takes time to undo old habits and to make new neuro-connections. So be patient with yourself and know that God is ALWAYS working behind the scenes. You are never alone.

Whatever you want to accomplish, becoming a happier, more compassionate, loving, confident or productive person you need to be purposeful in your intentions and give yourself time and always be kind to yourself while renewing your mind. I won’t sugarcoat it, the road will be bumpy with ups and downs. Old “stuff” will raise it’s ugly head, but if you persist, I promise you better days are ahead. Neuroplastic changes are no respector of person. Your brain just responds to your every command. This is a journey well worth the effort.  I am now seeing the fruits of my labor, but I have not yet fully arrived. I may never fully arrive, but I have left the place where I once saw little hope to a place where I now see possibilities for real positive changes.

God’s blessings to you. Peace. Out.