You Can Change Your Brain, Your Mindset, and Your Thoughts
Everyone knows that when you lift weights repeatedly over time, your muscles grow bigger and get stronger. And, when you stop exercising the muscles, they shrink again and get weaker. Most people don’t know that when they practice any activity and learn new information, their brain changes and gets stronger, much like a muscle.
Understanding Neuroplasticity and Why It Matters
The brain is made up of billions of tiny nerve cells called neurons that all connect together through a network of over a trillion tiny branches (made up of dendrites the receivers, and axons the transmitters). Every time we think or act, it is because these neurons are communicating by sending signals through their dendrites, all the way to whatever locations are needed to trigger the cells to act. The signal itself is a chemical called a neurotransmitter. These signals are responsible for every step you take, for your heart beating, and for thoughts and emotions.
You may have heard the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together”. What this means is that certain neurons connect to each other through chains in the network or pathways from one area of your brain to another. When you use a certain pathway or “wire” repeatedly, the connection between the neurons strengthens. The process is called myelination and it literally involves growing a protective coating that encases the wire like the rubber coating on an electric wire. This myelin sheath makes signals able to move faster, which the brain loves because it’s primary goal is efficiency.
So, when you repeat a behavior, an action, an emotion, or a thought over and over again, the pathway responsible for sending the signal becomes stronger and it becomes easier and easier. This is how skills are developed and habits are formed. It’s also how emotional triggers are created and negative patterns are formed. Whether the outcome is good or bad, whatever that you do repeatedly changes the physical workings of the neural connections in your brain.
But, interestingly, scientists have found that because of this process the brain literally grows bigger, just like a muscle—not in size but in weight.
And what’s important to know is that for many years scientists believed that the brain loses its ability to grow and change early in life, but they now have proof that even old brains can change by developing more connections and strengthening wires.
The Truth about Smart and Dumb
Most people believe that everyone’s intelligence is fixed. You’re born smart, dumb, or average and your capacity for learning is determined by what you’re born with. But, interestingly no one thinks babies are stupid because they can’t talk or read or solve equations. Those things, of course, are all learned with practice and exposure. And, babies can’t walk until their muscles get stronger. We don’t question this, but somehow, we’ve been tricked into believing that after a certain point, you’re either smart or not and that’s the end of it.
But, the truth is that, while there are minor variations between people with innate predispositions, the factor that contributes to a person’s level of intelligence at any age is their exposure to information and experience combined with the amount of time they spend learning.
The truth is that intelligence can be grown just like any physical capability can be improved. It takes work and it can be challenging, but this is also the case for a weightlifter who wants to increase their strength or a runner who wants to increase their speed.
So, now you know that you can change and grow your brain. When you practice a new skill over and over again or you increase your exposure to new experiences repeatedly, your brain grows stronger in those related areas. People who play an instrument have increased brain activity in the area of their brain related to their hands. People who drive cabs have a larger hippocampus than everyone else, which is the area of the brain responsible for spatial memory. So, whatever you spend more of your time and energy doing will grow your brain in the corresponding area. But, it’s not just repeating something that makes you learn and grow, it is DELIBERATELY learning how to get better at it. What unlocks the door to true growth is learning a new tool, strategy, or insight that helps you do something BETTER—not simply doing more of the same old thing.
The human brain is the most amazing and powerful tool in the world and you are blessed to have one. It may not have come with an owners’ manual, but now that you know how it works you have the power to use this tool to change your life.
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