The Magic of Your Mind

Your mind is capable of magic. The mind you were born with has the ability to heal your life. When you realize your potential, you can change your life in the process. In his book The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge explores the amazing capacity of the brain to heal itself, to change, and to develop new neural networks. He discusses a prevalent idea in science, the “machine brain” fixed and unchanging, or, as he calls it, the doctrine of the unchanging brain. Dr. Doidge questions the truth of this idea and makes a very important point: What if this is spectacularly wrong? Is it possible that we have a lot to learn about how the brain works? Might the brain be far more capable than we think? And, what if you could rewire your brain whenever you decide you’re ready to do the work?

“The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”  
Jonathan Haidt

This perspective is elemental in our relationship to our stories. Our beliefs, thoughts, biases, are our stories. As we evaluate what is possible, regarding our mind, we can choose to shift what isn’t working. In doing so, we expand not only our understanding of our mind; but also our understanding that we can re-write our life. 

Big Changes

Research supports that our brains are in a state of constant change. When I was in college in the ’90s, a shift was occurring from the idea that once you reached a certain age, twenty-four give or take, your brain became fixed and wouldn’t grow or change. The idea is that once your brain became fixed, you would never be able to recover from a brain injury, like a stroke. There was a fixed idea that you were absolutely stuck with whatever damage your childhood did to you; you were on a set course for the remainder of your life. In hindsight, this is a very limiting belief and, frankly, a depressing one. Who wants to be stuck with the life you had no control over as a child? If your parents were toxic, what if you were stuck with their nonsense?  Or what if you had a terrible accident or maybe a learning disability that stopped you from learning in a traditional manner? Sorry; I guess you’re stuck with that…. That sucks, right?

Curious and Clever Minds

Thankfully, some curious and great minds have challenged these ideas of limits and fixedness. Science is now exploring and expanding knowledge around the idea of neuroplasticity—that our brains can and, in fact, do change, with every thought we have, with our every experience, and this change occurs from birth until death. And, while it may be easier for a child’s brain to learn, and develop, it’s because a child’s brain is in a full-on “input open welcome mode.” Regardless, the older brain can also change; the only difference is in our mindset. If, as an adult, we put out the open welcome mat for learning and growth, our brains can continue to develop and change in powerful ways, right up to our final breath. Meanwhile, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers have been pioneering the field of neuroplasticity, originally founded by Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita. Not surprisingly, their curiosity has led to many new insights into how the brain works.

Dr. Bach-y-Rita

Dr. Bach-y-Rita built devices to help develop new neuropathways and rewire your brain. He stated, “The brain is able to use information coming from the skin and use it as if it were coming from the eyes.” One of his devices worked by sending signals to the tongue; people who had lost their sight were then able to see. This ability to create new pathways for the brain to read information is epically important to understand. Super-secret of the universe: You are not stuck with any neuropathway you may currently have. The development of new pathways is not only possible; it’s actually been demonstrated, as far back as 1976. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can keep doing the same thing and expect a new result. Still, if you begin the process of catching yourself in an old pattern/neuropathway, you do have the capacity to change the way your brain reacts and responds to the trigger.

Everything that you think, believe, and experience changes your brain.

As mentioned earlier, what if you grew up in a family with a lot of violence, anger, and fear? What we know is that the correlating area of your brain, the amygdala, might grow larger. In fact, it grows bigger as it adapts to your life experience in order to give you the tools to survive in the scary world you were born into. This larger amygdala might make you super-sensitive to danger and more reactive, with a heightened anger response. I want you to know you aren’t stuck with that; kind of cool huh?

By the same token, if you are born into a safe and loving family, your brain would develop a normal amygdala because you tended to feel safe and secure. Your brain didn’t need to overdevelop in that area to keep you safe. As your brain develops, it adapts, through plasticity, to mold itself in ways to help you survive the life situation in which you were born.

Neuroplasticity isn’t a good or bad thing; it’s just a thing the brain does.

Dr. Doidge explains that while all brains have plasticity, as some of us grow and develop, we continue the process of expanding our mind’s flexibility. Some of us do not. In these above examples are very different life experiences, which represent extremes. And while it might seem that one brain will be forever stuck in fear; that’s a fixed way of thinking about this situation. It’s important to understand, even when someone has suffered terrible abuse for most of her childhood, she can still change her brain. The caveat is it may take more time, support, practice, and compassion for the process. Similarly, others with backgrounds of abuse may become rigid and inflexible. Often life feels safer when seen through a black and white lens. Truly, fear and survival are powerful motivators. And rigid thinking sometimes helps you stay alive.

In summary, no matter what has happened to you, you can change your brain. You have the ability to develop new ways of thinking, create new neural networks, and completely shift your mindsets. The toolbox of life you carry can be filled with new tools. Activities like mindfulness, breath work, and visualizations can all support new neural networks. So never fear, when you decide you’re ready, you can change your brain, and heal your life.

Your Turn...

I would LOVE to hear from YOU!

  • What opens up for you, when you think that you can rewire your mind?
  • What are some beliefs, or thoughts, that you want to change?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

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