Yes, I’m channeling my inner nerd here, but I’ve been geeking out lately on this thing called neuroplasticity.
Once the argot of neuroscientists and psychologists, neurplasticity is quickly becoming the dernier cri for life and business coaches who focus on changing mindset, negative habits, and limiting beliefs as part of their programs to help people achieve success in business and in life.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life. The aim of neuroplasticity is to optimize the neural networks during phylogenesis, ontogeny, and physiological learning. In Lehman’s terms, it is the way the brain reorganizes itself by forming new connections throughout life. This is how you change the habits that hinder your success in any area of your life.
Think of it like any learned behavior or craft: If you practice something long enough and with consistency, it eventually becomes ‘old habit’ be it an activity like golf or tennis, playing an instrument, or learning a new language. Your thought patterns, beliefs, and habits are programmed in the same way.
If you’ve spent years practicing thoughts that tell you you are too fat, or not good enough, or incapable of making a lot of money, then you developed a complete belief system around that negative thought pattern and habitual way of thinking. If theses beliefs stem from childhood, then they are even more deeply ingrained in your brain because the developing brain is more absorbs information at a higher rate, i.e. it exhibits a higher degree of plasticity than the adult brain.
But, these bad habits and thoughts don’t have to haunt you for the rest of your life. You can ameliorate negative belief systems, if not get rid of them all together. After all, a belief is just a thought that you keep thinking. It’s the illusory truth effect, which is the tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure. It is frequently used in political campaigns, the media, and advertising. Technically, it’s a form of brainwashing that we do to ourselves without even realizing it.
Just like with learning to play an instrument, practiced thoughts become a habit. Joe Dispenza puts it this way:
We know physiologically that nerve cells that fire together wire together. If you practice something over and over, those nerve cells have a long-term relationship. If you move the same way on a daily basis, you’re embedding that neural net. And that neural net now has a long-term relationship with all those other nerve cells called an ‘identity.’ We also know that nerve cells that don’t fire together no longer wire together. They lose their long-term relationship because every time we interrupt the thought process that produces a chemical response in the body, those nerve cells that are connected to each other start breaking the long-term relationship.”
Neurplasticity is the pathway to literally rewire your brain and create new habits and ultimately a much better life. It’s like finally breaking up with yourself after a very long and very dysfunctional relationship, and you get to experience the freedom and love you never before thought you could or would.
So, just how do you rewire your brain to eventually create the life of your dreams? Simple: Practice. You just need to start making a habit of practicing new thoughts repeatedly.
“If you think that your thoughts have something to do with your life, and you’re thinking sixty to seventy thousand thoughts a day, and ninety percent of these thoughts are the same redundant thoughts as the day before, they’re going to produce the same measurable effects in your body.” — Dr. Joe Dispenza.
Repeatedly practicing those same old thoughts creates the same choices, the same behaviors, the same experiences, and the same outcomes. It’s the epitome of Albert Einstein’s quote: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
These practiced thoughts also produce the same emotions. In essence, your entire chemical make-up - biology, hormones, neurochemisty, even your genetics — is equivalent to how you act, think and feel, which determines your personality.
So, to change your life, you have to change your personality. If you want different results, you have to do something different. You have to rewire your brain so that it starts to produce the better thoughts and ultimately a more desirable experience. That doesn’t mean that you suddenly have to lose your sense of compassion, or are no longer allowed to have a sense of humor. You’re not going to turn into a mindless robot with the personality of a stump. Quite the contrary. Reprogramming your brain and creating more positive thought patterns can only enhance the existing positives and create a better life experience.
To change your personality, you have to first become aware of the deep seeded negative habits and beliefs that have been running on autopilot for years. Take a good look at the emotions that have kept you chained to your past. You need heightened self-awareness and a serious dose of self-discipline to recognize the patters that have been tucked away in the annals of your subconscious mind for all those years.
Your brain can be rewired for healthy habits through the practice of self-discipline and the use of self-directed Neuroplasticity techniques. Here are a some I recommend:
- Recognize the trigger of your habit. When you feel the trigger, override it by replacing the habit with a healthier one. If stress is a trigger for smoking, the replace the triggered response. Instead of lighting a cigarette, try working out or meditating. If you feel a trigger that causes you to go down the path of stinking thinking, start repeating positive affirmations.
- Create mindfulness. The best way to create new neural pathways is to practice mindfulness. And, the best way to create mindfulness is through meditation. Meditation gives you the opportunity to become aware of your thoughts while remaining focused on one thing, e.g. your breath, a steady water drip, the pulse of the air conditioning unit… When we bring complete awareness to our thoughts, beliefs and responses, we now have the power to shift those thoughts, beliefs or responses and focus on something more positive.
- Visualization. As Kristen Hansen states in her book Traction: “Ask yourself not only ‘What do I want to achieve and by when’, but also ‘What would it look like and how will I feel when I get there?’ Bring the goal alive through visualization techniques and engage your emotions. For example: ‘I will be a non-smoker by December. I already see a healthier, fitter person. I already feel happier, healthier, and more confident.” When you not only create a mental picture of who you want to be, but you actually feel what it’s like to be that version of yourself, you are creating new opportunities for firing and rewiring.
- Give yourself positive feedback. Celebrate even the smallest of wins rather than beat yourself up constantly over the mishaps. When we say something to ourselves like “good for you” or “I did it!”, we release dopamine, which gives us a feeling of pleasure, which can also become addicting. Post the win on your social media pages, and feel the love from your friends and followers.
- Hypnosis. Hypnosis is a great way to inject more positive thoughts and beliefs into your subconscious. When you are in a state of hypnosis, your brain drops down to Thetha state, which is a twilight or trance state. You’re still aware of your surroundings, but you’re in a deeply relaxed state. It’s the intriguing outpost between the conscious and subconscious worlds. Because you’re stopping the conscious flow of thoughts, your mind is highly receptive to information when you’re in this state . When using auto-suggestion or affirmations while in a state of hypnosis, your subconscious will begin to become more familiar with these positive thoughts, and they will eventually replace the negative ones, especially of there is constant repetition.
Of course, there’s so much more to know on the subject of neuorplasticity. It’s a rather complex subject, but I hope this gave you an overview on how it is truly possible to be, do, and have anything you want in life. When you stop living your life on autopilot and start becoming fully aware of your thoughts, feelings, and habits and use the techniques listed above, you then have the opportunity to completely rewire you brain and rewrite your life.