Rewire Your Brain with the Power of Your Mind
Can we rewire our brains to think more positively and reduce self-criticism? There is fascinating research out there that says yes. You may have heard of neuroplasticity, which is the brain's amazing ability to create new neural connections that change the way it functions. For those who struggle with anxiety, depression, or low self-worth, we can harness the power of neuroplasticity to rewire our brain.
Rewiring the Brain -- How Does Neuroplasticity Work?
The brain is always learning and changing to adapt to your environment. It continually takes in cues about what is important and what's less necessary for survival. Then, the brain strengthens the parts that perform functions identified as more essential for your wellbeing. This is rewiring of the brain.
Sometimes we experience this as a good thing, like when we get better at doing something we first found difficult. I used to feel self-conscious making videos for this blog, but the more I did it, the easier it got, and now I enjoy making them. Other times, we experience neuroplasticity differently. I was sideswiped in a hit and run accident many years ago, and to this day, I get nervous when cars drive right alongside me or suddenly move into the lane next to me. I imagine my amygdala (the brain's anxiety center) grew a little stronger after that trauma to keep me safe while driving. Even though the change in my brain is designed to help me, I find my hypervigilance while driving quite unpleasant sometimes.
Rewire Your Brain -- Use Self-Directed Neuroplasticity to Change Your Brain
Now that you understand what neuroplasticity is, let's explore how you can use it to your advantage. Self-directed neuroplasticity is a concept first presented by Dr. Jeffery M. Schwartz. An article in Mental Health Daily1 discussed his research and the guiding principles of his theory. His research suggests that the mind controls the brain (not the other way around). Using this assumption, he took brain scans of participants before and after engaging in exercises that forced the brain to function differently. His results show that forcing yourself to think or behave in new ways does change brain function over time so that the forced ways become second nature.
Self-directed neuroplasticity, rewriting your own brain, takes effort and time to set in. It isn't a quick fix to your problems. However, if you are willing to put in the time to focus your attention differently, utilize willpower, and remain consistent, you can expect to see gradual results. Here are some examples of exercises you can try to change your brain with the power of your mind:
- Identify what you want to change. I am continually working on being less critical of myself. I know many people can relate to that so let's use it as the example.
- Set an intention. Focus your attention on the opposite of what your mind usually does. Self-compassion and self-kindness are the opposite of self-criticism, so every time I notice I'm beating myself up, I force myself to make kind, compassionate statements to myself.
- Practice your desired mental state consistently. I find it most helpful not to wait until I'm hard on myself. I make an intentional effort to say kind things to myself at regular intervals throughout the day. I practice self-appreciation daily to keep my brain thinking positively about myself.
Remember, rewiring your brain will take time and effort before you start feeling results. You wouldn't expect to run a marathon if you were only doing a mile on the treadmill every day. Think of self-directed neuroplasticity as building a muscle, and be patient as your brain gets stronger in the areas that bring you happiness.
- Mental Health Daily, "Self-Directed Neuroplasticity: Consciously Changing Your Brain Function." Accessed March 25, 2019.
Green, H. (2019, April 3). Rewire Your Brain with the Power of Your Mind, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, February 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingablissfullife/2019/4/rewire-your-brain-with-the-power-of-your-mind
Author: Heidi Green, Psy.D.
Wow! What a fascinating read. I am so glad I came across this! For people dealing with things like anxiety and depression feeling like they don't have power or control over their own mind can be one of the most frustrating things and this is such an empowering reminder that we absolutely do! I love the idea of working with focused intentions and affirmations to bring about great mental (and emotional) change.
Thanks for your feedback, Lizanne. Understanding neuroplasticity truly is empowering. Knowing how to use it to our advantage creates hope for a healthier tomorrow!
I have a question. isn't this neuro plasticity thing the same as determination. Because I really can't tell the difference.
Hi Michael, thank you for your question. I would say determination is a mindset that can help you utilize neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to form new connections. When you use determination, you can foster this fabulous brain function!