The Mind’s Faculty for Personal Development

Neuroplasticity is the faculty of the brain that allows us to pick up a second language, ride a bike or learn to surf. Those who recover from brain damage have Neuroplasticity to thank and it can even enable the blind to see.

Two interesting examples of Neuroplasticity

Study of London Taxi Drivers vs London Bus Drivers: A study conducted in 1998 is considered the scientific landmark proving that we can generate new brain cells. The study conducted over a series of months demonstrated that the hippocampus (the area of the brain in charge of figuring out directions) of newer London taxi drivers had a statistically significant increase in the volume of those of newer London bus drivers.

Human Echolocation: In 2010 and 2011 there was a scientific study done by The University of Western Ontario on people who had the echolocation ability. Anyone who’s watched the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet has probably seen programs about how bats and dolphins navigate using a form of sonar or echolocation. At UWO they studied people who were blind and could navigate through crowded streets in unknown cities, mountain bike and do other spatially demanding tasks. They could also determine the dimensions and angles of objects placed in front of them. These people would make verbal clicking noises for echolocation. The part of their brains that processes visual signals had been re-purposed through Neuroplasticity to create 3D environments out of hearing the echoes of clicks.

Neuroplasticity and Personal Development

Neuroplasticity is the scientific faculty that enables what our culture thinks of as personal development or self-help. Synaptic pruning means that “neurons that fire together, wire together and neurons that fire apart, wire apart.

The good news is that this means that someone who wants to change their mindset, lifestyle or relationships can do so.
Where the science of Neuroplasticity diverges from popular psychology is that a lot of self-help carries the message that consistent positive thought, education on a topic or focus on a positive outcome will create real-world results. While most successful people will not deny that those things are important, active, frequent, constructive thought is not a factor of plasticity.

Neuroplasticity is more dependent upon such factors as:
Experiential Cognition: Neural nets rewire based upon repeated new experiences that are cognitively challenging. If you want to maximize Neuroplasticity you should endeavor to challenge your cognitive abilities. In a self-help context a lot of times this equates to experientially getting far outside your comfort zone frequently (Scared of heights? Go skydiving!).
Balanced & Overall Healthy Lifestyle: There’s a lot of lifestyle aspects which prevent Neuroplasticity such as high stress, not getting enough sleep, unhealthy diet and not excising frequently. There are also a few essential vitamins. More on these lifestyle aspects below.

Dr. Michael Merzenich, the career neuroscientist who is regarded as the ‘Father of Neuroplasticity’ said:

… brain exercises may be as useful as drugs to treat diseases as severe as schizophrenia — that plasticity exists from cradle to the grave, and that radical improvements in cognitive functioning — how we learn, think, perceive, and remember are possible even in the elderly.

How does the scientific discovery of Neuroplasticity impact the belief that we only use a low percentage (5%-10%) of our brains?

How to Increase Neuroplasticity

Fitness & Exercise: A variety of scientific studies have shown a strong correlation between consistent cardiovascular exercise and healthy Neuroplasticity. The simple reason for this is that a healthy body is better at pumping blood and oxygen to the brain. The most conclusive scientific studies of this suggested you should devote 3 hours weekly to aerobic exercise to keep your brain and plasticity healthy. Some of you may be wondering: Is physical exercise or cognitive exercise more effective for maximizing Neuroplasticity?

Meditation: There are two forms of mediation that have been demonstrated to increase Neuroplasticity, Open Monitoring (OM) & Focused Attention (FA). These are what they sound like; OM Meditation is when you keep your mind very open and attuned to the environment you are in. FA Meditation is when your mind is fixed on a single object or concept for a specific length of time. The studies linking mediation to Neuroplasticity were done with Tibetan monks who focus on the feelings of unlimited compassion & loving-kindness for all things while they mediate. The study found that the monks with the most hours of meditation had the most brain changes. The Tibetan monks also had increased gamma brain waves which are associated with higher mental activity and consolidation of information. The effects of mediation also included better-calibrated control of emotions.

Music Training: Neuroplasticity and listening to music. Nina Kraus the lead researcher at Northwestern said “An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity… but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning… The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant. Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex process that may involve reading or remembering a score, timing issues and coordination with other musicians.

Healthy Lifestyle: A high stress, lack of sleep lifestyle will rob you of Neuroplasticity.

Learning of Abstract Information: Anyone aspiring to increase their Neuroplasticity should challenge their brain by studying abstract concepts. Some abstract subjects to consider:

  • Quantum physics
  • Philosophy
  • Search engine optimization
  • Micro-expression science
  • Computer programing
  • Social dynamics
  • Engineering
  • Learning a new language
  • Forex or stock market trading.

Abstract concepts may be different from person to person based upon your educational background. For example: someone who is a computer programmer by day might want to read Socrates or learn Russian! Studying something abstract to you forces your mind to create new neural nets and create synaptic connections between preexisting neural nets that may not have communicated previously.

Neuroplasticity Software: Several software packages put the user through progressively challenging games which are designed to train and enhance memory, multi-tasking, listening and problem-solving skills. This kind of software ranges in price from free to several hundred dollars. More info in the Mind Power Marketplace

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Jonathan Roseland

Jonathan Roseland

Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸