Brain training has become a popular topic lately. Lots of sites like Lumosity and Mind Games are springing up and the ABC even created a TV show about it. The show, called Redesign My Brain, put host Todd Sampson through a “radical brain makeover” as he tested out the new science of brain plasticity.
What is brain plasticity?
When I was growing up I thought of the brain as a finished object. Its structure was unchangeable although somehow it was capable of absorbing all sorts of learning. What I didn’t realise is that inside the brain itself there is a series of what they call neural pathways. Each pathway carries a message through the brain which triggers a response.
For example, we see a ball coming towards us which sends a message to the brain telling it to take an action. You could catch the ball or you could duck out of the way.
Brain plasticity means that the more often you use that pathway, the stronger it becomes. The more often you face the ball, the more quickly you respond to it. It’s why we can become really skilled at something if we keep practicing. It also means, though, that if we stop facing that ball, that particular pathway starts to become weak through disuse.
The pathway is a bit like a muscle. Use it or lose it.
What did the show tell us about the brain?
Redesign My Brain showed that we can change the brain and make it better – stronger and more flexible. We can learn new behaviours and teach ourselves to think differently. We can shape it as we want it to be (within reason.)
What does brain plasticity have to do with success?
Think about it.
- If you could train your brain to think more quickly or to think differently, how might that help you?
- What might change if you could teach yourself to look or the positives instead of holding yourself back by focusing on the negatives?
- What if you could train yourself to develop better habits, how might that help you?
How can I change a poor habit?
What excites me about the discovery of brain plasticity is that it opens the door for us to become the best we can be.
It’s not a simple step to change a habit but remember, the more you try, the stronger neural pathway you are building. Repetition is the key.
- Identify the behaviour you want to change.
- Work out what triggers it, and when. There may be a situation, an emotion or even a person who triggers the response.
- Identify the tell-tale signs. Does it provoke a feeling in you (such anger, stress, depression) or is it a behavioural response (such as not listening or yelling) that tells you you’re doing it again?
- Stop yourself as soon as you realise what’s happening. Consciously take a different action or work on a different thought process.
- Rinse and repeat!
Redesign My Brain showed that we can all learn to think more quickly and creatively. We can learn to focus your attention and ignore distractions. We can even improve our memory and recall through practice. By engaging our brain’s plasticity, we give ourselves a greater chance of achieving personal and professional success.