Using neuroplasticity to our advantage


Vaibhavi Bafna


What happens when we lift weights over repeatedly? Our muscles tend to grow bigger and we become stronger. It works both ways: when we stop exercising, we get weaker and our muscles weaken.

Just like this, when we read a lot, our brain becomes ‘stronger’ and when we keep on practicing it, we grow much smarter.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.” - Viktor Frankl

What is neuroplasticity and what is its importance?

Our brain is made up of billions of tiny nerve cells called neurons. Neurons connect together through a network of tiny branches called as dendrites (receivers) and axons (transmitters). Every time we tend to think or act, our nerves brighten up because those neurons are trying to communicate by sending signals through their dendrites, to the cells at the relevant locations. These signals are enabled by chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for every step we take, for our heart beating, and for the thoughts and emotions we feel.

There’s a very popular phrase used widely in psychology: “neurons that fire together, wire together”. It means that there are certain neurons that connect with each other, (like chains) forming a network, from one area of the brain to another. And when we use a certain chain or network repeatedly, the connection between the neurons strengthens. The process is called myelination and it involves growing a protective coating (myelin sheath) that encases the wire-like rubber coating on an electric wire. This myelin sheath makes signals through the chains move faster, which helps us in retrieving information, physical movements, thinking faster and more efficient.

How are habits created?

So, when we repeat a behavior, an emotion, or a thought over and over again, the network responsible for sending the signal becomes stronger and the connection becomes stronger and faster. This is how many of our skills are developed and habits are formed. It’s also how emotional triggers are created and negative or positive patterns are formed. Our brain doesn’t necessarily understand the outcomes first, so whatever we do repeatedly, whether it is good or bad, it surely changes the physical working of the neural connections of our brain. That’s how we form strong (positive or negative) thought patterns or behaviours.

This is why it’s important for us to be conscious of what we are thinking and doing. Because, we may be developing negative thoughts and behaviours without even realizing it! Sometimes people may even get addicted to substances without realizing it.

What if negative behaviours have already been formed?

It is no doubt difficult to break negative thought patterns and behaviours, specially ones that have been sustained for a long period. The good news is, once we start building good habits or routines into our schedule, our brain responds and over time the connections supporting that behaviour become stronger. By reminding oneself constantly of the benefits of leaving that behavior, we can motivate ourselves to get rid of it.

When negative patterns are not reinforced, they get weaker with time, and ultimately complete freedom from them can be achieved.

That’s why it gets easier with time to sustain good habits! The secret is to start at this moment itself and create the life one desires.

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Brain is keeping your functioning high or low depends on how we are keeping it.