Recently, the concept of neuroplasticity (the brain’s lifelong ability to rewire itself through our experiences) has become an increasingly popular research subject. Researchers have found that we are not permanently limited due to our past experiences. No matter how old we become, the connections our brain has made in the past don’t have to define us. Our brain is “plastic” and can change at any age.
“The brain physically changes in response to new experiences. With intention and effort, we can acquire new mental skills. What’s more, when we direct our attention in a new way, we are actually creating a new experience that can change both the activity and ultimately the structure of the brain itself,” explained Daniel J. Siegel in the audiobook version of The Whole-Brain Child.
Whether we’ve started our own families or not, we can benefit from understanding that we have the ability to mold and shape our brain around new experiences in order to achieve new potential in our lives. We can improve our overall wellbeing by understanding how our brain works and move toward integrating all of the parts of our brain to acquire new skills for our relationships, work, and life at large.
“[We] can use our minds to take control of our lives. By directing our attention, we can go from being influenced by factors within and around us to influencing them. When we become aware of the multitude of changing emotions and forces at work around us and within us, we can acknowledge them and even embrace them as parts of ourselves. But we don’t have to allow them to bully us or define us. We can shift our focus [. . .] so that we are no longer victims of forces seemingly beyond our control but active participants in the process of deciding and affecting how we think and feel,” Siegel stated.
It can be encouraging to discover we have more control over our selves than we may have previously realized. When we tell ourselves, “I’m stupid. I can’t ever get it right,” we create connections in our brain that lead us to feelings of incompetence and shame. With a new understanding of our brain’s ability to change, we might instead say, “I didn’t get it right this time, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not smart. I can’t expect to get it right all the time. I’m smart and competent and will get better as I keep trying.”
Maybe we become overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness sometimes. With our knowledge of neuroplasticity, we might say, “I’m sad right now, but that’s only part of me. I also have the ability to feel happy, angry, silly, and a variety of other emotions.” Whether we are experiencing a difficult feeling or thinking discouraging thoughts, we can be mindful of what we are experiencing while also taking steps to do things differently.
When we do things that are associated with positive feelings, we reinforce those activities and experiences. Each time we do things differently, we are working to rewire our brains and make new connections. “Remember, neurons that fire together wire together,” Siegel stated. With this knowledge, we can see countless opportunities to change the structure of our brain and improve our overall health.
To learn more about integrating the parts of your brain, identifying your core emotions, or learning to express your core beliefs and feelings, therapists at The Refuge Center are glad to journey with you.
Resource: The Whole-Brain Child (Audio Book) by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson