Your Ever Changing Brain

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With the development of new technologies, we are able to obtain more and mores details of the brain in action. What is being revealed is causing a revolution in our understanding of the way the brain functions. Until this explosion in knowledge most scientists believed the brain under went rapid development in early childhood up to age of five to seven years old. Then the rate of change slowed until we reached our early twenties, after which time all improvement stopped and the only change now was its slow decline due to aging that accelerated in later years. I have to admit although I accepted what the neuro-scientists were telling me, it was a view of my future that did not leave me jumping for joy. Fortunately a much more positive picture about the brain functions is starting to emerge. We are finding that the brain is continually rewiring itself in response to our thoughts feelings and perceptions. We are also just beginning to discover that you were born with your full complement of brain cell that you began losing from the day you were born is not true. Stem cells in the brain create new cells.

Use it or lose it

The same message you hear in the gym applies to the brains equivalent of physical exercise. When ever you have the same type of thought or perform an activity like a golf swing the same group of brain cells fire. The more a group of brain cells fire together the stronger there connections become. This is why practicing a skill or revising a subject increases your proficiency. The reverse is also true, if you stop playing golf the connections between the brain cells responsible for your golf skills become weaker over time and some of the brain cells will start making connections to groups of cells for skills you are practicing. Like the old saying about never forgetting to ride a bicycle there will always be some brain cells that remain connected so the skill will never completely disappear and it you start to practice again you will regain your skill much faster than it originally took to learn the skill in the first place.

Brain scans have shown that when we devote a lot of time to practicing a skill the areas of the brain that controls that skill increases in size as the brain grows new connections. The studies show

  • In musicians the area of the brain known as broca's area, which is associated with language and musical ability is larger than in the brains of non-musicians.
  • Buddhist monks who practice long hours of compassion mediation, increase the thickness of there prefrontal lobes. This is the area that controls concentration, free will and compassion.

Creating Beneficial Ruts

The groups of brain cells I talked about earlier are more correctly called neural nets because they are a network of neurons (brain cells). The more your have the same sorts of thoughts you strengthen the existing connections between neurons and stimulate the growth of new connections to bring more neurons into the neural net. The stronger a particular neural net becomes the more likely you are to think the thoughts that are associated with it.

Studies have shown that the majority of us think the same thoughts day in day out. We find ourselves caught in the mental ruts we cal habits. Although this may seem depressing. Once you understand what is happening to you can follow two life enhancing strategies.

*The first is to deliberately expose yourself to novel experiences and keep developing new skills like playing a musical instrument or learn a new language. This stops your existing ruts from getting to deep and maintains your brains neuro-plasticity. Keeping you open the new and potentially better ideas.
*The second is to create ruts or habits that are beneficial and improve your life.

The second strategy comes in two parts the first is to reduce the strength of the neural nets of the negative habits you want to eliminate. The second part is to strengthen the neural net or the habit you wish to acquire. Let me give you an example to illustrate. Suppose you want to eliminate the negative habit of complaining and replace it with the habit of positive thinking. So now every time you find yourself start to complain your repeat a positive thought mantra in your head something like, "I am happy", "I can find a positive out come to this situation" or just think of something in your life that you are grateful for.

It as been shown that if you repeat a behaviour for 21 days you will have weakened the connections in the old habit and strengthen the connections in the new habit that this becomes the new behaviour.

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David A Bradley has 1 articles online

My name is David Bradley and my mission in life is to find more effective methods of Self-Improvement.

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Your Ever Changing Brain

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This article was published on 2010/03/28