Scientists once thought that the brain stopped developing after the first few years of life. They thought that connections formed between the brain’s nerve cells during an early “critical period” and then were fixed in place as we age. If connections between neurons developed only during the first few years of life, then only young brains would be “plastic” and thus able to form new connections.Standford.Edu
Physio-pedia says: “Before understanding Neuroplasticity, it is necessary to understand the term; ‘plasticity’. ‘Plasticity is the ability of any structure weak enough to change by an external stimulus, however strong enough not to mould at a once’. In addition, the nervous tissue in the human brain is allocated with a tremendous capacity of plasticity.
Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity is defined as the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections. A fundamental property of neurons is their ability to modify the strength and efficacy of synaptic transmission through a diverse number of activity-dependent mechanisms, typically referred to as synaptic plasticity.”
Definitions by Physiopedia:
‘The ability of the brain to change in structure or function in response to experience’.
‘The capacity of the nervous system for adaptation or regeneration after trauma’
‘The ability of the Central Nervous System to undergo structural and functional change in response to new experiences’.
Can you visualize the following anecdote?
Imagine that you are in your kitchen and wanted to redo the cupboard where you keep your morning coffee and replace it by other items, such as glass cups, or else. You make the plan to move the items around to make it nicer or more practical. When all the job is finished, and you come back later on to prepare a cup of coffee. You would certainly go to the old cupboard setting and realize that you have made a change to the cupboards. Darn, I just changed that yesterday, you might say. Then the following day you make the same attempt and realize that there was a change, and so on until you realize that new connections are being formed in the brain until you go to the right cupboard. This simple example can lead you to understand what neuroplasticity is. In fact, neuroplasticity is nothing complicated. All you need is to get used to the planned and realized changes and continue to make efforts to make it second nature to your own habits. One may think it is silly as the confusion continues; but with real efforts and determination you can adjust yourself to new patterns in your life. In fact, the brain is re-wiring itself to get used to a new condition. It only takes the D.E.S.I.R.E. to change and things will come to you naturally. James Olson in Build a Happier Brain says, “We have the freedom to adjust our perception — and our creativity — by consciously shifting our attention, as the occasion demands”.
Yes, the brain is “plastic”, “malleable”; not hard-wired as once thought in the past. Neurons that fire together, wire together. This principle is known as the Hebbian learning rule: i.e., if interconnected neurons become active very close in time during a particular event, their connection strengthens and “a memory” of this event is formed. Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb first used this phrase in 1949 to describe how pathways in the brain are formed and reinforced through repetition.
It is only with the advances in imaging medicine to help us visualize the real (current) situation of the brain. There are so many cases when people have lost one of their brain’s hemispheres completely because of an accident or sorts of tumors. Those people were studied and educated to practice neuroplasticity. The neuroplastic changes were to teach the other side of the brain to learn what was new to it. Ex.: If someone had lost their right side of the brain where visual awareness, creativity, emotions, spatial abilities, music skills happen. So, all those functions are now “lost” temporarily until you make conscious and subconscious adaptation to teach the left side of the brain to take charge and re-wire again. All of this is in opposition to what the left side of the brain was in charge for, ex.: logical, analytical and orderly. The way our brain works is incredible, isn’t it? But remember this, it is not a miracle. One has to work hard to get those results. Practice makes permanence.
Self-Directed Neuroplasticity through Psychotherapy:
“I assist the client in self-directed neuroplasticity. Trained, conscious voluntary directing of attention and the practice of new voluntary behaviours can produce long-lasting biological changes in the brain. Through exploration one learns to identify which areas of their brain structures appear to be over-active and other areas that are under-active.
One learns to classify personality traits that lead to anxiety or/and depression such as perfectionism or self-criticism. You must understand that neuronal pathways grow stronger with repeated action or repetitive thinking. I guide the patient in self-examination and intentional learning that leads to self-directed neuroplasticity.
Your brain is driving your emotions and behavior, and may be confusing your thinking. You will learn tools to calm the amygdala. Seeing pleasant and peaceful images can lower amygdalae reactivity. Muscle relaxation is also helpful as is redirecting attention to something that requires focus. Your mind is more than your brain—you can use your mind to retrain your brain”.