Did you know that our brain can restructure itself? That we can, for example, get rid of specific thought and behavior patterns that are programmed into our minds? That we can change the way we react to a situation and how we think or feel about everything happening to us? And that this is possible not just during childhood and adolescence, but all throughout our lives?
The concept behind this is called neuroplasticity.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, neuroplasticity is “the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections.” By forming these new neural connections, or altering existing ones, the brain can restructure itself over time and thus change the way our minds work. It is literally rewiring its physical composition.
This is the process through which our brain regenerates itself after injury or disease. Yet, it also has other use cases that might even be more relevant to our everyday life.
The Mechanics of Neuroplasticity
Our neural connections work like our muscles. The more we repeat specific thoughts, the stronger this connection gets. The less we do so, the weaker it gets.
This means we can dissolve existing connections and create new pathways in our brains that did not exist before. Repeating these dynamics often enough, over a long period of time, will change the way we interact with, and react to, all the different facets of life. By doing so, we reprogram our minds until this altered way of being is our new standard.
The Implications for Our Lives
It can be valuable to examine the implications of the concept of neuroplasticity in connection with the insights of the previous blog post “How Our Thoughts Make Us Suffer.”
Neuroplasticity shows that there could indeed be a way to influence the reactive dynamics of our minds and thus also to directly affect our thought process. This would have an even more significant impact than just reducing our suffering. It could completely change our lives.
As elaborated in the previous post: our thoughts shape our day-to-day experience. They create a filter we unconsciously put on everything we perceive – which forms the basis for all our decisions, and for everything we do.
Many people might recognize the feeling of being the victim of their own thoughts. We can get lost in them and lose control. Sometimes we get stuck in our recurring patterns of thinking and reacting, helpless about what to do.
Since neuroplasticity seems to show that we could actually influence this dynamic, the question that remains is: how?
How To Apply The Theory
This is where practices like meditation come into play. They allow us to access our neural connections and implement all our concepts and personal ideals – translating them into actual, tangible changes.
A helpful metaphor to understand this process is to think of the brain as a computer, our concepts and ideals as the software, and practices like meditation as the installation. And we certainly need to install the software before we can even use it in the first place.
Another way to see it is that doing these practices is like hacking our brain and rewriting its source code. We usually cannot access the code but only look at the outcome, the user interface. However, neuroplasticity, paired with an appropriate technique, allows us to modify the operating system that runs behind the scenes.
Although meditation is one of the most impactful methods to change the structure of our minds, and thus the quality of our lives, it is not the only one. There are various techniques that are useful on the path of self-development. And I will introduce more of them on this blog in the coming months.
Neuroplasticity As a Basis for Personal Growth
I am not a scientist, and this post is not about the details of this theoretical concept. If you want to learn more about it, there are numerous possibilities for further research. A good place to start is to look into the various online resources such as the National Library of Medicine, Frontiers in Psychology, and Hindawi – or for a more condensed overview Wikipedia.
However, the main reason I am presenting this topic is that it points to something we can experience and confirm for ourselves. This is the basis for all forms of personal development. We can grow, we can learn, we can change. At least our brain allows us to do so – if we use the right techniques. So now it is up to us.
What You Can Do Now
Knowing that growth is indeed possible, the next step could be to make a commitment to yourself to find out more about all these potential methods. Do your own research and see which other perspectives there are on this topic. Try out different approaches and see what works for you.
This is a long process, so be patient and allow this to flourish over time. If you really want something to change, I encourage you to always keep going, even in moments of doubt. With the right mindset and set of techniques, you can overcome anything that stands in the way between you and the person you aspire to be. Between you and the life you can create for yourself.
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