Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the brain’s amazing ability to create new neural pathways through the learning process: The more the brain does something, the more it reinforces that ability or behavior by building stronger neural connections that will help it execute that task in the future. In other words, the more you do something, the better you become at it because your brain is actually “growing” accustomed to the training you are putting it through; just as if it were a muscle, by actually building new physical neural connections.
Unfortunately, sometimes we train ourselves to become better at things we don’t want to be good at and train our brains to reinforce negative behaviors. We tend not to be aware of these kinds of behaviors or how we reinforce them, which is why the first step in ending a bad habit or behavior is to acknowledge its existence and the figure out how it is reinforced.
Let’s take depression for example: Most people get stuck in cyclical depression traps because they actually train their mind master depression. The more one thinks negatively, and repeats these thoughts over and over, day after day, week after week, and month after month, the more negative neural connections are created instead of positive ones. These people practice being depressed so much, and reinforce their brain’s ability to execute depression so wonderfully, that they actually become champions of depression.
But when you are aware of what you are doing and intentionally train your brain to grow with a positive purpose, this is called Directed Neuroplasticity (DNP). An example of DNP would be when someone consciously chooses to become better at a certain thing, lets say math, and they practice exercises to get better at it, and over time, their mind grows better at doing it.
And just like you can train yourself to get better at something positive, you can also train yourself to remove something that you are doing which is negative.
In order for one to reverse DNP that has reinforced unwanted habits, they have to train the mind in the opposite way. This, however, is not instant and takes time and practice. If someone has been depressed for so long, then they will have to practice not being depressed in order to “overwrite” the powerful and negative neural connections to their depression. They would have to train their mind to think positively and reinforce new positive neural connections that will overwrite the negative ones over time. It’s not easy; especially if someone is so good at being depressed, anxious, or whatever negative mental states they have mastered, but the good news is that they can reverse these processes and master their opposites.
What’s also important to understand is that the acting out the desired positive behavior physically is critical in order to build an actual mind/body connection. For example, if you are having a bad day and everything seems to be going wrong, you can practice smiling and having a positive outlook; telling yourself that things will work out soon and this is only a minor setback, instead of getting mad and training yourself to become emotional when things don’t go your way. If you trained yourself to act this way every time things went wrong, you would acquire the ability to handle bad times more efficiently over time, rather than exploding and allowing them to control you.
Just as you are what you eat, you now know that you become what you think. Since you have now learned that the brain literally grows depending on what kinds of thoughts you “feed” it or training you put it through, you now have the understanding that you can literally shape your brain into whatever you want it to be good at. If you have certain behaviors that you want to change, you can create a “work out” plan to train your brain to become better at that behavior while overpowering the ones you don’t want.
If you want to change something about your personality; for example, you want to be less shy, you can practice overcoming your shyness by saying hello to one new person a day; then two new people a day; three new people a day and so forth, literally like doing “reps” of the behavior you want to acquire as if you were at the gym doing a workout. Overtime you’ll overcome your shyness because you will be literally rewiring your mind to become not shy and reinforce social positive behaviors that will further be reinforced by positive emotional feedback from others.
The greatest part of DNP is that you can come up with your own clever ways to “train” your brain simply by asking yourself, “What can I do to overcome this?” You will be surprised by the answers that your mind gives you when you simply by ask it. All you have to do is practice, practice, practice, by taking both physical and mental actions and your mind will make you a master at what you want to achieve. Which way do you want to direct your neuroplasticity?