Neuroplasticity and Growth Mindset
When we think of doing exercises, most of the time we think of building muscles. We do not usually associate exercise as something that we can do with our brain.
When we think, speak, perceive or move, tiny nerve cells called neurons are sending signals that trigger cells to act. The signals, which are conveyed by neurotransmitters from one neuron to the next neuron, are responsible for our heart beating, our fingers moving, our emotions and almost everything we do.
When neurons communicate with each other, it creates a pathway from one area of the brain to another. When you consistently use a certain pathway, the connection between the neurons improves and strengthens. When this process continues repeatedly, it makes the signals between neurons move faster and more efficiently. The brain is a highly active and malleable learning machine.
Initial stages of learning something causes chemical changes or changes in the neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters primarily influence short-term memory and short-term improvements in motor skill. When neurons change their connections, actual structural changes occur in the brain. These pathways or structural change require effort and repetition over time and impact long-term memory and long-term improvement in motor skills. Functional change occurs when entire brain networks change as they are used over and over again. It makes sense to be patient, because structural and functional changes in the brain take time to occur.
Neuroplasticity is the scientific term for the brain’s ability to change and adapt throughout the course of your life. We can influence this brain development in either the positive direction or the negative direction. Pathways between neurons that are not used for some time get clipped back. Our brain literally changes in response to our behavior!
In other words, habits are formed when you repeat a behavior, action, thought or emotion. This repetition sends a strong signal or pathway to the brain. It also becomes easier for the brain to process because of repetition. Emotional triggers and negative habits are also created this way.
This habit formation happens every time you try to learn something new. This includes adapting a new skill, or improving an existing skill, or creating a new routine. This means that whatever you decide to do or spend more of your time on, your brain will respond accordingly.
If you intentionally pursue learning a new habit or skill, your brain will help you process this new information faster.
Years ago, there was a belief that ‘an old dog can’t learn new tricks’. But the new scientific evidence continues to reinforce that we are capable of learning new things throughout our life. And continuing to learn new things keeps our brain ‘in shape’ and makes it easier to continue to learn.
So, go ahead. Exercise that brain! Learn a new language. Play a new game. Travel to a new place. Do things you’ve always done but do them in a new way. And choose positive beliefs and habits. Your brain will thank you!