Does it really matter what I think?
The short answer is yes! The brain is ‘plastic’. Not literally plastic of course but neuroscience refers to the brain as ‘plastic’. What does this mean? By ‘plastic’ it means mouldable, changeable, constantly able to change itself. At any age.
This is a remarkable point. For years scientists didn’t believe the brain was plastic at all let alone capable of rewiring itself at any age. Neuroscientists, challenging the concept of Localisation (the belief that learning was localised to specific regions of the brain and that those regions couldn’t be altered), were laughed at, humoured or simply ignored. Please read ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’ by Norman Doidge, MD for many examples.
Brain mapping (the process by which scientists discover which dynamic areas of the brain can be responsible for thought and behaviour) successfully challenged the Localisation scientists, but it still took many years before neuroplasticity was considered accepted theory.
I’ve studied neuroplasticity (the science of the brain constantly changing itself) reading many books on the subject, as well as writing about it in posts. The fact, as we now understand it, is this: Whatever we think about and do will wire, rewire, strengthen the wiring and weaken the wiring of connections in our brain. There is a well-known saying in the world of neuroscience and is this:
Neurones that fire together, wire together.
What this means is neurones that work together, firing their signals along the neurone axons to other neurones form connections with each other and increase the efficiency of the signal being sent. The result: we can carry out the thought or behaviour with ever greater efficiently.
That’s great. It takes less effort to carry out the process (imagine having to learn to ride a bike every day) and the thought or behaviour becomes more and more automatic.
The problem though is that the brain doesn’t stop to say: “Hang on a minute! Do we really want to be more efficient at this?” The brain strives for efficiency whatever the thought or behaviour. Thus, with the same clinical efficiency, we can learn to think more negatively, behave more inappropriately and adopt more unhealthy habits.
Fortunately, the reverse is also true. We can learn to think more positively, behave more appropriately and adopt healthy habits. It’s just a lot easier to do, think and behave in the ways that we want in the first place than it is to have to unlearn negative thought processes and behaviours first before thinking more positively and behaving more positively. Why? Because the neurones that fired together with negative thinking have become wired together, in some cases very efficiently. It takes a lot of effort to weaken their efficacy (how well they produce their result).
But this is possible. That’s the point in neuroplasticity. It doesn’t have to be that way. The brain can change. But it’s going to take hard work. A lot of hard work. William James (Victorian psychologist) commented that a fold is easy to take hold. By this he meant that once the fold has been made it’s harder for the piece of paper to fold another way. Its tendency to fold along the original fold is strong. But, unlike a piece of paper, the ‘crease in the brain’ can fade and fade and fade and the folds in the brain: the desired wiring, can form and strengthen. Romans 12:2 (a passage in the Bible) says to the effect that we can be continuously transformed by the renewing (rewiring) of our minds.
I find it interesting that St Paul, writing two thousand years ago, explained that the mind can be continuously renewed and Localisation scientists and many others besides held that the brain was fixed until relatively recently in history.
Perhaps I might start calling St Paul the Father of Neuroplasticity!
Have you thoughts and behaviours that you want to change but feel stuck and don’t know how to change for the better? Contact me.