The Herman Trend Alert
November 23, 2022
Neuroplasticity Part 2
Last week, I talked about Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change and adapt, recover from trauma, and continue to evolve.
When we repeat the same actions or behaviors, our brains form neuronal connections. As we age, these connections create brain pathways which facilitate habits. Whether these habits are positive---like my habit of working out every morning or negative like stressing out over common situations, there is a kind of inertia that comes into play because the pathways have become permanently imprinted in our brains.
How Habits Become Imprinted
When we perform an action complemented by feelings of physical or emotional pleasure, our brains release dopamine. Dopamine gives us the reward of feelings of happiness and pleasure that are associated with the action. As we continue to repeat the action to get the reward, dopamine gets released earlier and earlier. Eventually, there comes a time when just thinking about it performing the action gives us the reward---without having to perform the action. That event is called an "anticipatory dopamine surge." We may experience this feeling with yearnings for food, drugs, or other addictive substances. This premature dopamine surge encourages us to repeat the behavior. As we continue to repeat the same action, our brains form specific neural patterns that can stimulate and reinforce these pathways. This reinforcement happens regardless of whether it's a good habit or bad habit. Interestingly, our nervous systems don't know the difference. All they know is that we are experiencing pleasure. Moreover, in the case of bad habits, whenever situations occur where a reaction is required, these fortified neural patterns (of bad habits) become "paths of least resistance." And they get repeated over and over, regardless of consequences. Addictions are formed through this negative repetition.
Overcoming Bad Habits Using Neuroplasticity
The good news is that we can replace the bad habits with good ones. To change habits, we just have to change our brains. Apart from the natural physical reaction of our brains to heal themselves, there are specific steps that we can take to rewire or reprogram neural pathways. By rewiring and creating new neural pathways, we can achieve better health, success, and feelings of well-being. The science of neuroplasticity, as well as our ability to redirect changes that are happening in our brains, are currently being studied and are now being applied in practical ways.
Creating New Behavior Patterns
Yes, we can essentially change our behaviors by replacing the bad habit pathways with good ones. Here are the 11 steps to follow to make it happen:
1. Identify our Triggers
Sometimes other peopleÕs behaviors and unexpected events can cause us to repeat the same unwanted behaviors we want to change. Knowing these triggers, we can reduce their impact and eventually eliminate them. Once we remove a trigger, we prevent the anticipatory dopamine. And thus, we no longer have the urge to repeat the same unwanted behavior. If this method seems overly simplistic, that's because it is. Addictions, especially those formed over years are often not so easy to change. Please consult a professional, if needed.
2. Foster a Healthy Learning Environment
Effective learning environments may provide us with ways to exercise focus and give us positive challenges that can stimulate good changes in the brain.
3. E-learning a new language
Research tells us that acquiring another language improves our vocabulary, enhances creativity, and strengthens problem-solving skills, increasing the brainÕs capacity. Plus, it helps us build social relationships with people when we speak their language.
4. Learn to Play a Musical Instrument
As I write this Herman Trend Alert, I am listening to Pandora's "Smooth Jazz Channel." In fact, I use music all the time to help me focus. This research also reflects that playing music puts us in a better mood, boosts memory, improves concentration, and best of all, it may also slow down cognitive decline in older people. Whether we have the talent to play an instrument or simply use music for backgrounds, melodies can help us rewire our brains.
Travel gives us new perspectives about things at home and in our everyday lives. Experiencing different environments and situations can inspire us in ways that allow neuroplasticity to occur. Travel broadens our minds and perspectives and creates new neural pathways in the brain.
6. Get Adequate Rest
Sleep plays an important function in the development of the physical body. There are studies that have identified a correlation between neuronal growth and sufficient deep sleep. It is vital that we get enough quality sleep to give our brains a chance to reboot themselves. Researchers recommend seven to eight hours of sleep, though individuals may need more or less.
We know that regular physical activity prevents losses of neurons in the brain. Exercise also helps increase serotonin levels that boost our moods. Furthermore, enjoying sunlight in the morning, while exercising, is a great way to increase our brains' neuroplasticity. A morning walk in the sunshine is ideal.
8. Reduce Stress
Meditation, yoga, stretch to music, and even social relationships all help to reduce stress, which helps neuroplasticity, too.
9. Have a Purpose
When people feel purposeful, they are motivated to expand their thinking and often are more willing to change neural pathways to achieve their perceived purpose.
10. Celebrate Small Wins
When we give ourselves rewards for small achievements by celebrating them, we are encouraging dopamine production and that moves us towards our desired results. Celebrating small wins creates new neural patterns that will make us repeat whichever good habit helped us achieve our goal.
11. Be with Positive People
Surrounding ourselves with positive people reinforces those good habits and promotes our further good habit reinforcement, building new neural pathways in our brains that will later turn into good habits.
The Future of Neuroplasticity
We have only begun to understand the tremendous potential our brains can offer. I suspect certain types of music and other sensory inputs may play an important role in that understanding. That is why I dedicated two chapters in my new book Experience Rules: How Positive Experiences Will Drive Profit Into The Future to Neuroscience. Stay tuned for more about the new book in subsequent Alerts.
Next Week's Herman Trend Alert: Preventing Alzheimer's
According to recent studies AlzheimerÕs may be the most preventable incurable disease. Would you believe me if I told you that walking 10,000 steps a day could reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer's by an impressive 51 percent? (Journal of the American Medical Association)
Again, I extend special thanks to author and educational consultant, Kendra Cherry, writing in verywellmind.com. To read the entire article, visit https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-brain-plasticity-2794886
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