We used to think that certain traits and abilities were innate or fixed. You were either intelligent, or you weren’t. You were either good at math, or you weren’t. You were either motivated, or you weren’t. That was just who you were, and there wasn’t much you could do about it.
Recent research has flipped this idea on its head and completely changed the way we look at the mind. Now, we know that the brain is constantly rewiring itself in response to our experiences, our environment and even our behavior.
It’s called neuroplasticity, and here’s how it works…
Let’s take a skill, like learning to drive. When you go through the motions of driving the car, a neural pathway is created in your brain. The next time you get in a car, this neural pathway is fired up. It’s nature’s shortcut, almost like a set of instructions that save you the energy of figuring it out all over again.
The more you repeat a set of behaviors, the stronger the neural pathway becomes. That’s why, after a few years of driving, it becomes second nature to you. That neural pathway is well-established, so your brain knows exactly what to do with little input from you.
Now imagine you switch from a manual car to an automatic. You no longer have to change gears, but the first few times, you find your foot moving towards the clutch. That’s your brain following the established neural pathway. After a little conscious effort, though, you stop reaching for the clutch.
Congratulations — you just rewired your brain!
What does Neuroplasticity mean for you?
That’s just one example of neuroplasticity at work, but the implications are far bigger — and much more exciting!
Neuroplasticity means that you’re capable of almost unlimited growth. It means that you’re not bound by some innate set of abilities or traits. It means you’re in full control of your potential. It means you can literally shape your own mind to become the person you want to be. How incredible is that?!
Let’s take a look at some examples…
Quickly Learning New Skills
Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument but you’re ‘just not musically gifted’. Maybe you’d love to take up running but you’re ‘just not the sporty type’. Maybe you have a great idea for a business but you’re ‘just not that organized’. Well, science says otherwise!
What neuroplasticity tells us is that any skill can be learned or improved. What looks to us like a musical prodigy is simply somebody who created those neural pathways and reinforced them with repetition, AKA practice. Their brains work just like yours, and there’s no reason you can’t repeat the same process that worked for them.
Breaking Bad Habits
Your brain doesn’t distinguish between good and bad. It doesn’t matter what the behavior is — if you repeat it, that neural pathway will grow stronger. This contributes to habits like smoking, and it also plays a part in addiction.
How can neuroplasticity help?
Well we also know that when they’re not used, neural pathways become weaker. A very effective way of breaking bad habits is to interrupt the pattern of behavior and replace it with a better behavior, so that those negative pathways ‘die out’.
So for example, when you want a cigarette, you go for a walk instead. Over time, this creates a new neural pathway where your craving is automatically followed by the desire to walk. Meanwhile, the old pathway that leads to smoking becomes weaker and weaker, until eventually it doesn’t impact you at all.
Let’s say your deathly scared of spiders. At some point in your early life, you probably had a negative experience with a spider. Maybe one startled you, or an older sibling teased you with a fake spider, or your mom saw one and freaked out.
Whatever happened, you learned that spiders equal fear, and a neural pathway was born. Every time you’ve seen a spider since, that pathway has been fired up and you’ve gone through your programmed fear response. Each time, that pathway has grown stronger and stronger.
With neuroplasticity, you can rewire your brain to eliminate phobias like this. In fact, it’s the basis of exposure therapy. When you see the object of your phobia, the therapist helps you to interrupt the fear response and stay calm. This creates a new, positive pathway, which becomes your default response with practice. This can be applied to any fear, and it’s super effective.
Challenging Limiting Beliefs
Limiting beliefs are things we tell ourselves that hold us back from achieving our potential. Things like: “I’m not smart enough”. Or: “There’s no point, I’ll just fail anyway.” They usually come from negative experiences, and they usually set off a flood of other self-defeating thoughts and behaviors.
Like bad habits and phobias, limiting beliefs can be reprogrammed. You see, the brain believes whatever the mind tells it. If you tell yourself you’re not good enough, the brain accepts that as the truth. Tell yourself you’re confident, brilliant and capable, and your brain will accept that too.
It really is that simple!
The best part is that you don’t even need to believe these positive affirmations. They still trigger a new neural pathway, and you can still reinforce that pathway by repeating them over and over again. You start to behave in ways consistent with your affirmation, and eventually it becomes fact. How great is that?!
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but neuroplasticity can help you to handle it much more effectively. First, it can help you to recognize your stress triggers and change how you respond to them.
Let’s look at an example...
Does criticism put you on the defensive and lead to arguments with your partner or colleagues? That’s a pre-established neural pathway, but you can rewire it. Instead of reacting, you can force yourself to stop and reflect on the criticism first. Maybe it’s valid or maybe it’s not, but you’re creating a new pathway where you think first and react later.
Second, neuroplasticity can help you to develop better coping mechanisms for stress. Ever consoled yourself with your favorite junk food at the end of a stressful day? Ok, well that makes all of us! What about a glass of wine, or even the occasional cigarette?
These are great examples of neural connections that arise from stress. This is not necessarily a problem once in a while, but remember how those connections strengthen every time we use them! If you repeat them enough, you might find yourself with an addictive habit. With neuroplasticity, you can rewire your brain to connect stress with a positive habit instead, like going for a run or taking a bath.
These are just a few examples of the many ways you can use neuroplasticity to reach your full potential. I’ve been practicing it for years and I can say first-hand that it’s life-changing stuff!
Let’s talk about how you can put it into practice in your own life…
How can you harness the power of neuroplasticity?
Meditation has become the holy grail of neuroplasticity, and for good reason. Not only can you use focused meditation to rewire your neural pathways, as we’ve talked about here, but you can also use it to literally change the shape and function of your brain.
Meditation increases the density of grey matter the brain’s pre-frontal cortex, which boosts your intelligence and your emotional health. It also strengthens the corpus callosum, the bridge between the brain’s two hemispheres. This leads to a boost in creativity and logical thinking, and it can also increase your focus.
Research has found that those who meditate have a larger hippocampus. This area of the brain is responsible for emotional regulation, and increasing its size can help to reverse the damage done by depression and improve symptoms.
Meditation also suppresses activity in the amygdala, which effectively rewires your stress circuitry and relieves anxiety. I could go on and on about the benefits of meditation on the brain, but you get the idea!
Visualization is the process of creating a vivid mental picture of a future event. I’ve talked before about just how powerful visualization is, but let’s talk about how it relates to neuroplasticity.
You know that to become skilled at something, you have to practice it in order to strengthen the neural pathways. Interestingly, research has found that simply visualizing yourself doing a specific activity can strengthen those pathways, too. Your brain can’t tell the difference between real and imagined stimulation, so it responds as if the activity were actually being performed.
Now obviously you’re not going to think your way to becoming the next Tiger Woods without ever picking up a golf club! But combined with action, visualization is an undeniably powerful way to push yourself towards your goals, whatever they may be.
Are you ready to train your brain for greatness?
My membership site, Limitless, features a library of over 100 recordings, designed to help you train your brain and unlock your full potential. I use a proven combination of visualization, meditation and hypnosis to show you how to shape yourself into the person you’ve always wanted to be.
When you take charge of your mind, you’ll be able to manifest everything from weight loss and fitness, to wealth and career success, to freedom from stress and anxiety, and more. If you want to discover the power of neuroplasticity for yourself, try Limitless now.