Forget everything you learned in school about the brain. New science says you can change your brain throughout your entire life.
This is called neuroplasticity, which is the capacity of the brain to change with learning… very focused learning.
And whether you’re 25 or 80, your brain can be transformed.
As a Cognitive Behavior Therapist, I speak a lot about limiting beliefs and mindset. So, when I started researching brain-based therapy and learned that your mind and brain are one, I was intrigued and fascinated.
This changed everything for me because when I explain the power of positive thinking to my clients, many times they need a “guarantee.” As we all know, there is no guarantee. However, now I can share a new theory: thoughts carve neural pathways in the brain.
When you think a negative thought over and over, you are literally carving a pathway in the brain that keeps you believing the thought is true.
Neuroscientist Carla Shatz summarized that “neurons that fire together wire together.” This provides great hope that by altering experience, you can alter neuronal structure.
The other theory is “use it or lose it.” Let’s compare this to weight lifting. If someone is trying to grow their biceps, they would learn to do bicep exercises, specifically targeted to build strength in the bicep.
Once the muscle is built, it doesn’t stay that way unless there is continued resistance training. If the weight lifting ends, the muscle atrophies. The same applies to the brain, when you quit learning, you quit carving new neural pathways.
Moreover, if every day you get up at the same time, eat breakfast, go to work, pick up the kids, make dinner and go to bed; that’s the pathway that is carved. It’s when you change your routine/behavior or think a new thought that keeps your brain alive and keeps it functioning long-term.
In order to keep the brain fit, you must learn something new, rather than simply repeating already-mastered skills.
So, if you are a person who graduated from high school or college and stopped reading or learning, you are at much greater risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s because of the “use it or lose it” concept.
One of the most popular theories is that years of education creates a “cognitive reserve” — many more networks devoted to mental activity — that we can call upon as our brains decline, according to The Brain that Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge.
Beyond positive thinking, there is one very important factor in maintaining the brain balance system: exercise.
Nothing speeds brain atrophy more than being frozen in the same environment: the uniformity undermines our dopamine and all attentional systems that are crucial to maintaining brain plasticity.
Dr. John B. Arden explains, in his book Brain2Brain, that there are five factors that have consistently received robust research support for the health and longevity of the brain. You can remember them using the mnemonic SEEDS. “Planting and cultivating SEEDS reaps a harvest of clear thinking and capability of positive moods.”
S – Social Support
E – Exercise
E – Education
D – Diet
S – Sleep
If you are trying to make changes in your life or if you are a therapist trying to help others make changes, it is imperative that these five factors be considered. The SEEDS model helps build the foundation, so that effective therapy can follow.