Think you are who you are and that’s the end of the story? Everyone should accept you for who you are, inhibiting weaknesses included?
If you answered “yes,” you might want to check your assumptions and look into a lil’ thing called neural plasticity.
What is Neural Plasticity?
Neural Plasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. (1)
Essentially, with a bit of conscious effort, you can change your neural pathways and create new habits that are better and healthier for you (and, consequently, those around you) than your old ones.
This goes for anything from diet and exercise to relationships and the way you see the world around you. Think: negative thought tendencies vs. positive thought tendencies. (Those negative thought tendencies can really hold you back!)
You CAN change anything you don’t like about yourself or anything that isn’t serving you and it’s not even that complicated. Anything is possible!
How I Discovered Neuroplasticity
A couple of years ago, I got deep into my yoga practice and really took it to the next level, practicing daily and exploring the science of yoga. When you do something like yoga regularly, you become very aware and connected to both your mental health and your physical health. (2)
In the western world, a lot of our suffering is caused by our disconnection from our well being that is caused by stress, perceived lack of time, and distraction by a whole lot of things that aren’t good for us. Yoga is an effective way to balance things out, in my experience.
If you are someone who is opposed to the idea of yoga, I encourage you to open your mind to this mental, physical, and spiritual practice that I have seen transform many lives for the better. If you’re interested in dipping your toe in, I’d recommend checking out Yoga with Adriene. Get past any ideas you might have about who does yoga and look for what yoga can do for you.
While practicing yoga one day, I had a breakthrough and realized that I had been suppressing some childhood trauma (most of us have some kind of childhood trauma in varying degrees) and it was time to work through it because life wouldn’t get any better until I did.
I began making a lot of positive changes that took a lot of effort at first but eventually became habits that I didn’t need to think about in order to make happen. The first changes led to a cascade of additional improvements in my life because I realized how much control we over our brains.
These changes naturally turned my relationships and career around because happy, healthy people attract others and develop stronger bonds. And I don’t mean a smiling-like-a-fool kind of happy, but a genuine satisfaction for life and interest in the people around you.
I had naturally stumbled upon the wonders of neural plasticity and changed my own pathways without even being aware of the science behind it. Soon, in my research on the power of the brain and Science of Happiness, I was able to formalize these techniques I’d been thinking about and became even more intrigued.
It had such an impact on my life, that I want to explore it further and make it a big part of my career. You can follow my research project here.
Who Can Benefit from Creating New Neural Pathways?
Taking advantage of neural plasticity is beneficial to just about anyone but especially useful in the following situations:
- Those who experienced childhood trauma (to any degree) and would like to overcome negative and fearful thinking patterns
- Those who tend to see the world from a negative perspective / have a tendency towards negative thought patterns and have seen those habits affect their relationships and career
- Anyone who has trouble focusing on tasks and completing projects
- Anyone who is facing obstacles while on the path to achieving their goals
- Those who feel like they are stuck in a rut and aren’t sure how to make positive changes in their life
- Anyone who has habits that are harmful to their well being and/or success
- Those who struggle with happiness
Ways to Create New Neural Pathways
There are a lot of different methods and exercises out there to help you get to work on creating new pathways but the main theme is conscious, repeated effort. Here is a list of practices I’ve collected for different purposes and a general guide on how to create your new habits.
(1) Nelson, C. Neural Plasticity and Human Development. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999.
(2) Butterfield, N. Yoga and Mental Health. Melbourne: Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal, 2016.