There’s been a lot of talk about the new findings of neuroplasticity and the ray of hope it has brought many with the understanding that we can use our mental processes to change our brains throughout the lifespan. If you’ve been reading The Now Effect you know that I open up the Know Your Mind, Change Your Brain section with the story of the young violinists who showed similar shifting in the motor cortex of the brain whether they were actually playing the violin or just imagining playing the violin. This conveys the power of our minds to shape our brains. But it’s not all roses.
In a recent interview that is part of a new Brain Science Series put on by NICABM with leading health professionals like Dan Siegel, Daniel Amen, Sharon Begley, Marsha Lucas, and others, Norman Doidge shares that neuroplasticity isn’t necessarily an ally, but understanding how it works is.
In terms of anxiety he says:
For example, we can look at someone going out at night and being mugged. They become chronically anxious about going out at night, about darkness and… that is a brain that has been neuroplastically altered. That nervous system is no longer functioning as it previously did.
So, plasticity is not always a positive thing. The brain can change in good or bad directions. With the anxiety in traumatic disorders, the change is in a negative direction. Luckily, therapists who understand how plasticity works or at least how they can make use of neuroplastic principles can often correct those runaway negative forms of plasticity.
It’s important to understand that how we pay attention and what we pay attention to affects our brain architecture. This brain architecture is what spits out rapid fire decisions of what is good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, safe or unsafe, important or unimportant, or urgent or not urgent.
We don’t deliberate about our automatic reactivity; it’s the wiring of the brain that reactively does this for us for better or worse. Often times in terms of stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and trauma, it’s for the worse.
The wonderful news is that once we have an understanding of this, we also understand that while the architecture may have a strong, natural component to it, it’s changeable by learning. It just usually doesn’t happen overnight.
This isn’t breaking news.
Learning theory has taught us for quite some time that what we intentionally practice and repeat in life is what becomes automatic. However, Norman Doidge, MD and the other scientists are helping us see the neural correlations of this, which at the end of the day is fascinating and I believe helps to give many of us the motivation to put it into practice.
In terms of mindfulness, if we intentionally practice and repeat dropping into spaces of awareness throughout the day, these spaces of awareness and choice will start dropping in on us like moments of grace during the day, where we literally begin recognizing more moments of choice, possibility, opportunity and freedom that we never knew existed before. This is the central theme and practice behind The Now Effect.
Begin or recommit to your practice today!
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Note: You are welcome to find out more about The Brain Science Series here to get a deeper understanding of all the up to date benefits we’re finding.
Young violinist photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 16 Mar 2012