A Meditation on Connecting with Someone Else
Feeling Good from the Inside Out: A Great Way to Change Your Brain and Your Life
Podcast 6: How Our Brain Changes
The term neuroplasticity caught my attention when I was in a university distance learning program for gerontology. This was news 20 years ago. It’s still news to discover how to make this relevant in our lives today. Our brains change through our whole lives.
Positive neuroplasticity talks about how our brains are shaped by positive things. Studies have shown that having more positive feelings in our lives make a difference. We’re happier, more connected to others, perform our work better, are more compassionate, our bodies are healthier, and we come back to an even keel more easily after difficulty.
The old school idea was that we had to suffer to grow. In fact we grow more resilient, courageous and content when we have a healthy balance of good things in our lives. The more good the better.
If the balance tips too much toward stress and we don’t have inner resources to meet the stress, we miss having the very qualities that help us get back on track. The stress hits us harder until we find and grow new inner strengths.
Today we’ll take a quick look at positive neuroplasticity. You might take a deeper dive by reading the article by Dr. Rick Hanson, called Your Wonderful Brain. You received this link in Podcast Two.
Our brain has been evolving around 3.5 billion years! Our ancestors had to adapt during adversity, bond with others in the tribe to better survive those adversities, and form lasting partnerships to care for young and pass on genes for the next generation. What does this have to do with us today?
Our brains reflect our minds. For example, if we routinely tune out by surfing on the internet that eventually becomes wired into our brains. Repeated often enough, our brain will automatically choose surfing the internet over taking a walk or another kind of break.
Dr. Rick Hanson describes the term, “mind,” as the flows of information within the brain, or mental activity. Mapping what happens in the brain through a repeated focus of the mind has been studied.
One study took images of the brains of London taxicab drivers. Those taxicab drivers have to memorize and orient themselves in a complex city. The streets are tangled like a big bowl of spaghetti. Taxicab drivers have to find an out of the way street or choose alternate routes on the spot to avoid an accident or rush hour traffic. Researchers noticed thickening in a specific region of the hippocampus in the brain, that has to do with orienting ourselves, finding our way in new circumstances.
Another study was with long-term meditators. One of the researchers, Sara Lazar, Ph.D., wrote that there was a measurable increase in the part of the brain that controls where our attention goes. This is the frontal cortex. When we’re being mindful we’re bringing our attention back again and again to the present moment.
What these studies show is that when we focus our attention on the same task, practice, thoughts or feelings, our brains change. The saying is that neurons that fire together, wire together.
I hope this has given you a little more understanding why shaping our brains is powerful and practical. Instead of thinking we have to go along with things we don’t like at work, or we don’t have a choice about how we eat, we can learn, step by step, to make changes at work or new choices about our food.
We can learn to pay attention to feeling relaxed and pay less attention to staying upset. We can live far more engaged, productive, happy lives. For some of us, we can live this way, maybe all of our years. For each of us we can manifest this amazing potential in our own unique way.
Today, notice one area in your life where your attention goes round and round like a broken record. You might explore Taking in the Good when you notice your mind is going on automatic. Let your brain enjoy this new task. Get as curious as you can about the positive or neutral experience or feeling.
Thanks for joining me. Bye for now.