The Power of Neuroplasticity to Strengthen Your Brain; Rewiring Your Brain Part One
Welcome to the first in a 3-part series on Rewiring the Brain where we’ll be discussing how your brain works, the power of neuroplasticity, and what it means to rewire your brain.
Did you know that the human brain contains around 100 billion neurons? And each neuron is connected to thousands of other neurons, forming trillions of connections. This incredible network of neurons enables our brain to process information, store memories, and control our behavior. But what’s even more amazing is that these connections can change and reorganize themselves in response to new experiences, a process known as neuroplasticity. By understanding and harnessing the power of neuroplasticity, we can learn to reshape our brains and transform our lives.
Understanding the Subconscious Mind
The brain is responsible for processing millions of pieces of information every second of our lives. However, most of this processing happens outside of our conscious awareness. Our brains constantly filter and organize information, make connections and associations, and influence our behavior without realizing it. This means that the majority of our thinking is actually subconscious. It is estimated that we have over 50,000 thoughts per day and up to 95% of our thoughts, emotions, and behavior are determined by our subconscious mind.
Now, this can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, our subconscious mind is responsible for many of the automatic processes that keep us alive and functioning. We don’t have to consciously think about how to breathe, how to digest food, or how to walk. These processes are all controlled by our subconscious mind. On the other hand, our subconscious mind can also hold us back. It can be responsible for negative thought patterns, limiting beliefs, and self-sabotaging behavior. These patterns can be difficult to change because they are so deeply ingrained in our subconscious.
The Power of Neuroplasticity
Now that we better understand the subconscious mind, let’s explore the power of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to experiences throughout our lives. This powerful ability plays a crucial role in helping us rewire our subconscious patterns. By consciously changing our thoughts and behaviors, we can create new neural pathways in our brains. These new pathways then become our default patterns of thinking and behavior.
If we want to learn a new behavior, we can intentionally practice the new behavior over and over again until it becomes automatic. For example, think back to learning how to drive a car (or something else complex). In the beginning, it required a tremendous amount of energy. First, you had to learn how to operate the MACHINE. Brakes on the left, gas on the right, and using turn signals. You also had to remember all the rules of the road. And, if you drove a manual or stick shift car, there was even more to learn!
At first, putting a lot of new information together seems so UNNATURAL, cumbersome, methodical, and maybe even overwhelming. However, over time new neural pathways are formed. Your brain becomes more and more efficient. And, with lots of practice, something like driving a car almost becomes second nature. Usually, slowly over time, mental habits are “programmed” into our brains. New neuropathways are formed that remember thought patterns (like how to drive a car). And, these neuropathways serve us pretty well, most of the time.
Programming without Consent
However, sometimes neural pathways get “programmed” without our permission or consent. As a child, for example, if you struggle with reading, neural pathways begin forming connecting your reading struggle with your identity. This is true of anything that happens in our childhood, or life for that matter. Before you know it, your experiences are connected with the idea that you’re not smart enough, or good enough. The words your parents or teachers said, made an impression that helped form the neural pathways that made you YOU. And even though that experience happened years ago, whenever you feel unsure or self-doubt, often subconsciously, your brain STILL connects to that experience of not measuring up. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Mindfulness for Rewiring the Brain
As we’ve seen, neuroplasticity offers tremendous potential for transforming our lives. One effective way to harness this power is through mindfulness practices. In the next section, we’ll explore how mindfulness can help us rewire our brains for better mental well-being and personal growth.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present and aware of our thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judgment. It is about being fully engaged in the present moment, rather than being lost in thoughts about the past or future. Mindfulness has been shown to have many benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving focus and attention, and increasing overall well-being.
When we practice mindfulness, we are essentially training our brains to be more aware and focused. This increased awareness can help us to recognize negative thought patterns and emotions that may be holding us back. By being more aware of these negative patterns, we can then decide to intentionally change them.
Notice Limiting Patterns
For example, let’s say that you have a negative belief about yourself, such as “I’m not good enough.” This belief may have been formed at an early age like we talked about earlier. Now it is deeply ingrained in your subconscious. While you may not know how this thought was programmed in your subconscious, once you become aware of it, you can begin to notice wherever it pops up through mindfulness, when this belief arises in your thoughts. Once you become aware of it, pay attention to how you are thinking and feeling (emotionally and physically).
As you begin to notice how you are thinking and feeling, you are able to recognize the pattern more quickly. Then, challenge your thinking. Ask yourself whether this thought pattern is accurate or true today. Seek “proof” or evidence of your thinking. Most likely you will realize that your thinking is inaccurate, and not true. In the future, when you notice this kind of thinking you can replace it with something that you know to be true about yourself. Perhaps you have demonstrated that you are a capable person. in this case, you can remind yourself that “I am worthy and capable.” Over time, with practice, this new belief will become your default pattern of thinking.
Mindfulness can help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings. But, deliberate practice is essential for turning that awareness into lasting change. In this next section, we’ll discuss how engaging in focused, intentional practice can help us unlock the power of neuroplasticity to rewire our brains and achieve our goals.
When we repeatedly engage in a particular behavior, our brain creates new neural pathways that make that behavior easier to perform in the future (like driving a car). The more we use a particular neural pathway, the stronger it becomes. Conversely, as we reroute our thinking with a new neural pathway, bypassing a negative pattern, that old negative neural pathway weakens.
Gratitude Reinforces Positivity
Finally, another powerful mindfulness tool you can practice to rewire your brain and maintain positive changes is gratitude. In our last section, we’ll explore the importance of gratitude in reinforcing healthy brain patterns, boosting our well-being, and improving our overall quality of life.
By intentionally focusing on the positive aspects of our lives, creating new neural pathways make it easier to stay optimistic and resilient in the face of challenges. A gratitude journal can be used to help shift your focus to the positive aspects of your life. At first, it may feel unnatural to write down things that you are grateful for each day. However, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Remember, as you continue to practice gratitude, your brain will be reinforcing new neural pathways. These new pathways will make it easier to focus on the positive aspects of your life.
Research Supports Gratitude
Research also supports the use of gratitude journals as an effective tool for improving a positive mindset. Studies show that participants who wrote in a gratitude journal for just three weeks reported improved mood, greater optimism, and increased satisfaction with their lives. Another study showed that writing just 15 minutes before bedtime reduced levels of stress and improved sleep quality compared to those who didn’t keep a gratitude journal. And a meta-analysis of 27 studies published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that gratitude interventions make a meaningful difference. Activities such as writing in a gratitude journal or even just taking a few minutes every day to think about the people and/or things you have to be grateful for were associated with increased well-being, and life satisfaction, a more positive outlook, and decreased negative attitude.
Overall, research suggests that keeping a gratitude journal can be an effective way to improve a positive mindset, reduce stress, and enhance well-being. By intentionally focusing on the positive aspects of our lives, we can create new neural pathways. And developing these new pathways makes it easier to stay optimistic and resilient in the face of challenges.
Rewiring Your Brain Requires Effort
It is important to understand though that rewiring our brains is not a quick or easy process. It requires consistent effort and intentional practice. It’s also important to recognize that not all neural pathways are created equal. Some neural pathways are stronger than others. It can be difficult to change deeply ingrained patterns of thinking and behavior. However, with consistent effort and practice, it is possible to create new neural pathways and shift our default patterns of thinking and behavior.
In conclusion, the majority of our thinking is subconscious, which can be both a blessing and a curse. By harnessing the power of neuroplasticity, we can learn to intentionally rewire our brains to change our default patterns of thinking and behavior. Mindfulness and intentional practice are two effective ways to create new neural pathways. By learning to shift our focus, we can create more positive thoughts and behaviors. Next time, we will explore how our stress and our environment can influence our brain’s ability to change and rewire itself.
Thanks for joining us for the first in this three-part series on Rewiring Your Brain. If you struggle with thought patterns you’d like to change, don’t wait any longer. Take the first step and schedule a FREE introductory session with me personally. Start your journey toward self-leadership and greater success today.
Kristin Clark is a certified Axiogenics Coach and co-author of Living a Richer Life; It’s All in Your Head. Kristin has coached hundreds of people from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs, industries, and professions. She teaches Valuegenic Self-Leadership, a powerful development program engaging, empowering, and igniting individuals’ and leaders’ potential to improve their performance, relationships, and quality of life.