In his book, Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, Dr. Michael Merzenich, a leading pioneer in brain plasticity research and co-founder of Posit Science, lists ten core principles necessary for the remodeling of your brain to take place:
- Change is mostly limited to situations in which the brain is in the mood for it. If you are engaged, your brain will be too.
- Be more motivated and more alert. Those intensely focused on the task and devoted to mastering something will experience greater change.
- The strengths of the connections of neurons that are engaged together, moment by moment, are actually what changes.
- Learning-motivated changes in connections increase cell-to-cell cooperation.
- The brain strengthens its connections between teams of neurons when things occur in the same order over time.
- Though the first brain changes are temporary, changes become permanent if your brain judges the experience to be worthy of remembrance.
- Brain changes happen through internal mental rehearsal just as physical rehearsal in the real world helps us learn and execute specific tasks.
- Memory is the key to learning. When you learn a new skill, your brain notes the good, the bad, and the ugly. The most recent good try is the one that the brain remembers.
- When your brain strengthens a connection in advancing your mastery of a task, it weakens unnecessary connections of neurons that weren’t used.
- Brain plasticity can go either way; you can generate negative changes just as easily as positive changes.
We can understand that the brain is designed to be stimulated and challenged, to carefully examine and interpret the environment, and keep track of the details, all of which is necessary for survival.
But, people in society tend to remove themselves from details of life. They don’t keep track of things in their heads anymore; they use smartphones with speed dial, address books, and reminder features. They rely on GPS rather than paying attention to street signs and navigation skills.
As we age, we go from the acquisition of abilities to using the abilities acquired earlier in life. We operate on autopilot. The skills and tasks we have mastered are done simply by rote. We are largely disengaged.
Modern culture has reduced stimulation on the functional level, while we engage ourselves at an abstract level of operations. Details no longer matter and our brains are deteriorating as a result. As we continue to disengage from the simple act of memory recall, we are letting our brain plasticity lie dormant.
But, it is more than possible to maintain plasticity as we age. Humans have the ability to learn new things, master new skills or learn new languages, even into old age. This example of neuroplasticity will most likely involve structural and biochemical changes at the level of the synapse.
Adult brains remember new activities through repetition. When an enriched and stimulating environment is offered to a damaged brain, recovery can occur. Not everyone will be able to recover, however. The amount of brain damage and the treatments and rehabilitation will be the key to engaging neuroplasticity.
The brain is an amazing source of skill, memory, and functionality. Its ability to continuously improve functionally and structurally make human beings one of the most sophisticated creatures on the planet.
We all have the power to train, modify, and heal our own brains through hard work, focused effort, and a belief in the power of the mind.
This guest post was graciously shared by Anna Kucirkova. Anna speaks 3 languages and has a passion for kids and writing. While she has been to many places in Europe and SE Asia she still wants to explore the rest of the world.