It was once thought that the human brain was fixed, immutable and rigid by the time of early adulthood. The ability to change our behaviors and habits, though still possible, was considered to be more difficult with age. Even so, such changes weren’t believed to alter the fundamental neural structures of the brain. But in the past decade, all of these limiting beliefs have fallen away.
One recent revolutionary discovery—neuroplasticity— affirms that the brain is not fixed, but dynamic, plastic and adaptable to our environment. If you’re not a scientist or doctor, why should you care about neuroplasticity? Because it may well prove to be the “Holy Grail” that allows us to experience long-lasting and authentic health and happiness.
One powerful aspect to neuroplasticity is that your brain can literally restructure itself based on experience and behavior.
Neuroscience and cognitive psychology state that our thoughts, feelings, actions, attitudes and behaviors can physically alter our brain structure, for better or for worse. When you consciously change your thoughts and shift the focus of your attention, you physically change your brain—and your life!
Think of the neural pathways in the brain like a trail in the woods. The further you walk, the more worn the path. In a similar manner, the resulting thoughts and feelings running through our heads, shaped by our experiences, form pathways. The more we react to situations by feeling overwhelmed, angry, shameful or depressed, neurons in the brain attach themselves, creating neural pathways that reinforce these thoughts. Ultimately, these neural pathways become our “default” response system to all other situations in life.
Neuroplasticity, along with recent psychological techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy, offer us hope! They suggest that whenever we encounter a new experience, we no longer have to travel down that familiar path of shame or regret. We now have a choice to how and where we focus our attention. Rather than falling back on the same patterns of thoughts and behaviors, we have a new opportunity to take responsibility of our life in a way that promotes our health and happiness.
When we make empowering choices, and develop new healthful habits, our brain imprints those changes. This can happen whether you’re 19 or 91. In essence, our brain can change its physical structure based on how we consciously choose to respond to experiences in life. As we like to say: “Change your thoughts, change your brain, change your life!” (Tweet to Share Some Happiness.)