Guest Blogger: Rachael Todd
Certified Health Coach and Yoga Instructor, Certified in Positive Psychology
Neuroplasticity…no longer just a figment of our imagination.
The latest neuroscientific studies show that we have the ability to change and grow our brain even as an adult! This has fascinating implications for our wellbeing and other areas of Positive Psychology.
For a long time now, it has been believed and understood by the scientific community that our brain is fully developed during infancy, and that it is essentially ‘unchangeable’ by the time we are in our adolescence. This could have meant that as adults we are stuck with the talents, belief systems, thought patterns subjective wellbeing, and happiness set-point that we are born with or that we have essentially learned from our families and those who raise us.
This is (fortunately) no longer the case.
In an early experiment with rats, American neuroanatomist Dr. Marian Diamond found that an enriched environment (a cage with toys) produced anatomical changes in the rats’ cerebral cortex; their brains became heavier than the brains of those in a boring environment (Diamond, Krech, & Rosenzwei, August 1964).
Later studies confirmed the concept of Neuroplasticity, the ability of synapses, neurons and whole brain areas to change depending on the activities we perform (Doidge, 2007). As it turns out, the brain is not a rigid machine, but malleable as a lump of clay, and it can change even later in life.
In other words, you are not what has happened to you, you are not limited by your environment, and what you choose to feed your brain and thoughts is what you will become. Literally.
The concept of Neuroplasticity has a number of implications on positive psychology. The actual scientific proof that the power of positive thinking, positive habits, and being a benefit finder as well as having a gratitude practice, will, in fact, change your life.
Here are three ways in which we can use this knowledge to maximize happiness:
1. Change Your Happiness Set Point
A happiness set point is the point on a continuum of happiness with which we are born.
According to Barbara Fredrickson, the happiness set point is given at birth and accounts for about 40% of our happiness. Early findings showed that while positive events (such as winning the lottery) and negative events (such as an accident) change our happiness levels in the short run, we eventually return back to the baseline, our happiness set point (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978).
The latest findings in Neuroplasticity, however, indicate that the happiness set point can be changed, based on what we focus on and the activities we perform.
So as we practice gratitude, optimism and self-compassion the neurons in our brain form more connections, and that area of our brain grows and becomes stronger. Over time, this alteration in our brain can change our set point of happiness (Greater Good Science Center, 2014). Neurons that fire together, wire together.
2. Develop a Growth-Mindset
We can also use this knowledge to help create a growth-mindset. Since there is evidence that we can rewire our brain to learn anything we want, our only limit is the limit we set ourselves. We now have scientific proof that if we put in the work, we will see results. Do you need more motivation than that?
We are not stuck with the talents we possess. In fact, many successful people owe their success not to their genes but to hard work.
Did you know that Michael Jordan was cut from his High School Basketball Team? What set him apart was his will to succeed. He had a growth-mindset. So the more you train your brain to avoid limiting thoughts, the more you will look at challenges and failures as information on the path to mastery rather than a reason to quit.
3. Grow the Mindfulness Muscles in Your Brain
Positive and negative emotions look different in the brain. Research found that someone who experiences positive emotions, such as joy or gratitude has much higher activity in the left prefrontal cortex, whereas negative emotions such as anxiety or stress are linked to activity in the right prefrontal cortex.
Not surprisingly, the positive effects of mindfulness are also reflected in the brain.
In a trial with 41 biotechnology employees, one group received Mindfulness training while the other didn’t. After a period of four months, the group who received the training showed a significant increase in left prefrontal cortex, the area that reflects positive emotions (Davidson et al., 2003 Jul-Aug). Hence, whenever you practice Mindfulness you are growing the part of your brain responsible for positive emotions!
In order to feel happier and healthier, discover the areas of your life which are causing tension and discover solutions to keep it in check. If you are seeking a stress reducing method that you can utilize each and every day, head into your local Planet Beach location today!