The human brain is remarkably malleable. It can be shaped very much like a ball of Play-Doh, just with a bit more time and effort.
Within the last 20 years, thanks to rapid development in the spheres of brain imaging and neuroscience, we can now say for sure that the brain is capable of re-engineering. In fact, you could say that we can facilitate these changes.
In many ways, neuroplasticity – an umbrella term describing the lasting change to the brain throughout a person’s life – is a beautiful thing.
We can change our brain for the positive, so we don’t have to feel “stuck”. We can increase our intelligence (our “I.Q.”). And, we can learn new, life-changing skills. In some instances, a person can recover from brain damage. Finally, we can choose to become more emotionally intelligent by “unlearning” harmful behaviors, beliefs, and habits.
But, there’s another side of the coin, we can redesign our brain for the worse! Fortunately, thanks to our ability to unlearn harmful behaviors, beliefs, and habits, we can right the ship again!
BOTH GOOD AND BAD BELIEFS CHANGE THE BRAIN
Donald Hebb, an early pioneer of neuroplasticity and neuropsychology, famously said:
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Dr. Michael Merzenich, now recognized as perhaps the world’s most renowned neuroscientist, built on Hebb’s work, proving the relationship between our thoughts (“neurons that fire”) and structural changes in the brain (“wire together.”)
Among Dr. Merzenich’s numerous discoveries, this one may be the most important:
“Your experiences, behaviors, thinking, habits, thought patterns, and ways of reacting to world are inseparable from how your brain wires itself.”
Negative habits change your brain for the worse. Positive practices change your brain for the better.
NEUROPLASTICITY AND ILLNESS
Alex Korb, Ph.D., and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, said this profound statement,
“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”
Neuroplasticity can be both the problem and the solution.
COMPLAINING AND BRAIN CHANGES
We’re going to get a bit more specific now, discussing the effects of negative behaviors – specifically, complaining – and how these behaviors alter the brain’s structure.