My purpose in writing this blog was to develop an outline which made sense to you and to pique your interest enough in the subject matter to have you do your own research into neuroplasticity and how it can change your life for the better. Even though the blog is long the amount of material found in it only touches the tip of the subject matter iceberg.
My personal journey started in 2010 with reading the book Brain Rules by John Medina. Since that time I’ve read many more books on the subject and done hours of online searching and learning. In today’s world I would be labeled a self directed learner.
Much of what I am including in this blog was taken from several books: The Mind and the Brain Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffery M. Schwartz, M.D. and Soft-Wired How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life by Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD, Brain Rules by John Madina, The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing both by Norman Doidge, M.D.,
Once you get started reading this blog you will discover that it is loaded with links to articles and many many videos, all dealing with neuroplasticity and how it affects each of our lives. Take your time and don’t get burnt out trying to do too much at at sitting.
Here is a definition of Neuroplasticity as supplied by Merriam – Webster
“The capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction. Rapid change or reorganization of the brain’s cellular or neural networks can take place in many different forms and under many different circumstances.”
Neuroplasticity occurs when neurons in the brain sprout and form synapses. As the brain processes sensory information, frequently used synapses are strengthened while unused synapses weaken. Eventually, unused synapses are eliminated completely in a process known as synaptic pruning, which leaves behind efficient networks of neural connections. Neuroplasticity occurs during development in childhood, following physical injury such as loss of a limb or sense organ, and during reinforcement of sensory information such as in learning. Neuroplasticity forms the basis of research into brain-computer interface technology, in which computers are designed to interact with the brain to restore sensation in people with an impaired sense such as the loss of vision. Research on neuroplasticity is also aimed at improving scientists’ understanding of how to reactivate or deactivate damaged areas of the brain in people affected by stroke, emotional disorders, chronic pain, psychopathy, or social phobia; such research may lead to improved treatments for these conditions.
A short but pretty accurate definition goes like this: Plasticity is the quality of being ‘plastic’ or formative. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change and adapt as a result of one’s experiences, environment and thinking. To view the slideshare presentation, go here.
I located many online sites giving practically the same description of the term but felt that Webster might have the most unbiased one.
The following image shows the connection between two neurons when in fact a single neuron can be connected to up to as many as 1,000 neurons know as networks.
Here are links to several more of the sites I found while looking for the definition.
While reading The Brain That Changes Itself I started looking up information mentioned in it. Here are some Youtube.com videos giving more detail:
The blind man who learned to see and the woman who is perpetually falling. Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita –
Seeing with your tongue.
One of the stories in Dr. Doidge’s book which fascinated me was about Pedro Bach-y-Rita the father of Dr’s. George and Paul Bach-y-Rita. In 1956 or 1957 Pedro, age 65 there abouts, had a massive stroke and was paralyzed on one side. If you go to this web pager you can read about his story. Link to Pedro Bach-y-Rita story
Another story in Dr. Doidge’s book I found eye opening was about Barbara Arrowsmith Young. The following 14 minutes Youtube.com video is her wonderful story. After watching the video I purchased her book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain and have now read it a couple of times.
Here’s Barbara, in a short video, discussing her book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.
Another program to help children with learning disabilities, developed by Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD called Scientific Learn and using the software Fast ForWord is illustrated in the following video. Here’s a six minute video about a successful use of Fast ForWord with high school student Kenny Hilliard. The Kenny Hilliard story. And for the rest of the story about Kenny.
LET’S TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE BRAIN.
The following are three short videos explaining how the brain works. Their approaches are a little different. The more basic one is first.
From the Discovery Channel: Neurons and How They Work. GABAY Medical Library
How a person’s experiences build their brain:
How the Brain Works by Thinkology:
The following are some key points from the video. Reading through them might encourage you to view the video.
- How neurons connect to form neuropathways govern all our thoughts, actions and behaviors.
- Understanding how the brain works so you can leverage this power so you can live up to your fullest potential
- Groups of neurons join together to form chains to be responsible for some action; like walking, brushing your teeth or your envy thoughts of another person .
- Why do certain people find it difficult to do something?
- All brains, if they have not been damaged, have the potential to achieve extraordinary things. They just need to learn how to make the brain work for them.
- The brain just records what we think or do. Not right or wrong. The brain takes in all thoughts as we live.
- In the first 6 years of life the brain is open to everything. It will take in all information presented to it.
- Between ages 6 and 12 the majority of our beliefs and attitudes about ourselves are formed.
- In the first 12 years of life, most children will take in most of what they are told, how they are treated and their perception of events. If someone tells them they are stupid, cannot draw, spell, or do math, with their brains being in a highly suggestive state, they may take it as the truth.
- Plasticity gives people the capability to achieve anything they put their minds to doing but first they must choose to do so. New neural pathways can be built to facilitate this change.
- The real secret to learning and achievement lies in What We Think. What we think determines how we perform. You cannot separate what we think and who we are because who we are comes from our brain.
- The good news is that we can replace any chain of neurons that are not allowing us maximize our brain’s ability to learn and excel in life.
- All we need to do is choose to use our brains amazing potential.
LET’S DISCUSS SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES/RULES ABOUT THE BRAIN & NEURON CHAINS.
It used to be thought that once we reached adult age our brains became hard wired and that it did not change. But with the development of the fMRI and other scientific equipment it was found that the locations where thoughts/events happened did actually change locations in the brain. Mapping of the brain has pretty well put to rest the belief that adult brains do not change.
The following are several of the principles I’m going to discuss in this section.
- Neurons that fire together wire together.
- The more you use it the stronger it gets.
- Use it or lose it. If a neural circuit goes unused it is pruned.
- There is competition for our neural real estate.
- Habits and neuroplasticity.
Neurons that fire together wire together – and some of the strongest bonds are when emotions are tied with an event. As an example of that, here is my abbreviated story – Between my junior and senior year in college I fell in love with a girl whose name was Pat. That same summer Pat was the last person I was with before driving off to attend USAF ROTC summer camp at Otis AFB on Cape Cod. The song that was played over and over on my drive to Otis was “This Guys In Love With You” sung by Herb Alpert. To this day, almost 50 years later, every time I heard that song the wonderful memory and feelings associated with being in love return.
The other side of the coin is when the emotion of fear ties itself with the memory of an event or observation. I’ve known of people who are frightened of being in small dark places, afraid of harmless spiders and snakes, heights, water, dogs and cats, riding in airplanes, and the list could go on and on. Back in the late 70’s my older son became motion sick while were were driving through RMNP. At the time he felt sick he was eating red licorice. His brain associated his motion sickness and his eating red licorice and to this day he still does not eat it. On the positive side, he does not get motion sick while driving through mountainous area.
John Madden, the legendary football coach of the Oakland Raiders, would not fly with his team on a airplane. It seems to have been precipitated by a panic attack in 1979 while flying out of Tampa, FL. The more times a fear rears it’s ugly head the more the neural circuit is strengthened. Do you have any fears like the ones mentioned above that you would like to overcome? If so, keep reading.
The more you use it the stronger the neuron connections get – The more you use neuron circuits the stronger the bonds between wired neurons become. Think about the first time you tried to drive the family car. In my case, it was a 1953 two tone red Hudson with a three speed transmission on the steering column. It took several practice sessions with my father to coordinate the clutch, gas, gear lever and steering wheel all at the same time. The more I practiced driving the Hudson, the better I became and finally I mastered it. Once that happened I didn’t have to think much about what I needed to do. Eventually I was even able to carry on a conversation while driving. On the flip side of the coin, I wonder how many car accidents happen each year because the driver looks at the passenger he/she is talking to while driving?
After watching the Broncos defeat the Patriots in the 2016 Superbowl it became obvious to me that the receivers had practiced catching passes so many times that mostly their hands just went to the spot where the ball was going to be. The connected neural circuits had been developed to such a great extent, little conscious thinking about it was needed. You can also apply that to playing a musical instrument, driving a nail or ……
Think back to learning to drive your first car. Once you mastered the process of driving, something you did not realize, is that the brain starts paring down and streamlining the group of neurons to just the vital few. Those neurons released from duty could then begin doing some other task. There is competition for cortical neural real estate.
Use it or lose it – Just like in the use of our muscles, if you don’t use parts of your body or certain senses they will diminish or possibly lose that function. It’s been shown that if a baby animal is kept in a dark room when that part of the brain should be receiving visual signals and developing, that animal will never learn to see. But that part of the brain not being used for it’s original designated purpose does not go idle.
I was a pilot for seven years in the USAF and felt very proficient in my ability to fly and even teach jet flying. I took my last flight in 1976 and I would only be considered a foolish old man to think that I could strap on a Cessna T-37 or C-130 and go fly after forty year of not practicing the skill. That neuron real estate area associated with piloting an aircraft is now being used for some other purpose, something more important to me at this time.
Here’s a blog I wrote about Mia, my English Springer Spaniel, which will help clarify the rule “Use it or lose it”. Mia’s Story blog .
Competition for neural real estate – In his book The Brain that Changes Itself Norman Doidge wrote about two studies which proved that there is competition for brain real estate. The first one was where kittens had one eye sutured closed prior to them opening their eyes. That eye was never able to see because it received no visual input during the critical brain development period for eyes in cats. What the researchers did find was the area which should have been processing sight from the sightless eye was actually processing the inputs from the sighted eye. It appears that no part of the brain goes unused. Here is a short video of Dr. Doidge explaining competition for cortical real estate.
Another example mentioned in the book dealt with braille instructors. New instructors actually had no light allowed to enter either eye for several weeks while they learned braille. That area of the brain which had been processing the vision signals for functioning eyes was now being used by the finger tips in processing the braille print. Once the eye patches were removed sight was eventually restored to the teachers and to the area of the neocortex which processes vision.
The following paragraph was taken from page 59 of The Brain that Changes Itself:
“The competitive nature of plasticity affects us all. There is an endless war of nerves going on inside each of our brains. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead. If you ever ask yourself, “How often must I practice French, or guitar, or math to keep on top of it?” you are asking a question about competitive plasticity. You are asking how frequently you much practice one activity to make sure its brain map space is not lost to another.”
Neuroplasticity and Habits. I wrote about some of this above but not to much extent. We are what “our” habits make us. It is not only about what we do, like driving, how we put on our cloths, brush our teeth, tie our shoes, the food we eat and ………… It is also how and what we think, the beliefs we hold, what we value and the actions we take because of them.
Habits make our lives easier in many respects. If we had to think about each and every little thing we need to do, our minds would spend a huge amount of time thinking what we needed to do, how to do it then doing it. Habits are both constructive and destructive to us and those around us. For more information on habits go to his webpage.
One example, close to home , about habits is one I wrote about back in the late 1980s and published in several blogs on this site. It’s about how I reacted to my fear, frustration and hurt that manifested itself as anger. Here’s My anger story by Steve Batty.
Here’s a short article written by Debbie Hampton on The Dark Side of Neuroplasticity which talks about habits. I recommend you read it. Here is a short two minute video by Dr. Doidge on the dark side of neuroplasticity.
WAYS OUR BRAINS CAN HEAL THEMSELVES, with a little help
In this section I’m going to supply material from Dr. Norman Doidge M.D.s book The Brain’s Way of Healing. His book only has eight chapters, dealing with different illnesses and ways that they were able to, with a little assistance, heal themselves. Here’s a ten minute video interview with Dr. Doidge talking about some of what’s in the book.
I was totally amazed with this book and the material it contains about the brains ability to heal our bodies. Here is a great video of Dr. Doidge talking about several of the examples from his new book.
- Physician Hurt, Then Heal Thyself – Dr. Michael Moskowitz Discovers that Chronic Pain Can Be Unlearned.
- A Man Walks Off His Parkinsonian Symptoms – How Exercise Helps Fend Off Degenerative Disorders and Can Defer Dementia.
- The Stages of Neuroplastic Healing – How and Why It Works.
- Rewriting a Brain with Light – Using Light to Reawaken Dormant Neural Circuits.
- Moshe Feldenkrais Physicist Black Belt and Healer – Healing Serious Brain Problems Through Mental Awakeness of Movement.
- A Blind Man Learns to See – Using Feldenkrais, Buddhist, and Other Neuroplastic Methods
- Device That Resets the Brain – Stimulation Neuromodulation to Reverse Symptoms.
* A Cain against the wall.
* Three Resets: Parkinson’s, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis.
* The Cracked Potters.
- A Bridge of Sound – The Special Connection Between Music and the Brain.
Here’s a video interview with Dr. Doidge explaining some of the material in his newest book.
Now that you have discovered that many chronic diseases, once thought permanent, can be helped, let’s look further.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MIND AND THE BRAIN
From the front inside book jacket of The Mind and the Brain – “Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a leading researcher in brain dysfunctions, and wall Street Journal science columnist Sharon Begley demonstrate that the human mind is an independent entity that can shape and control the functioning of the physical brain. Their work has its basis in our emerging understanding of adult plasticity – the brain’s ability to be rewired not just in childhood, but throughout life, a trait only recently established by scientists. But in this paradigm-shifting work, Schwartz and Begley take neuroplasticity one crucial step further. Through decades of work treating patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Schwartz made an extraordinary finding: while following the therapy he developed , his patients were effecting significant and lasting changes in their own neural pathways. It was a scientific first: by actively focusing their attention away from negative behaviors and toward more positive ones. Schwartz’s patients were using their minds to reshape their brains. Here is a short TED video talking about changing your own brain.
The Mind and the Brain follows Schwartz as he investigates this newly discovered power, which he calls self-directed neuroplasticity or, more simply, mental force.”
This book spends quite a bit of print discussing the Silver Spring, MD monkey/PET fiasco beginning back in 1981. The ensuing court case lasted about ten years. As far as this blog goes it was what was learned from the monkey research and Dr. Taub’s move to the University of Alabama when he received a grant to continue his work that is important.
His grant at U of A was in the field of stoke recovery and developing a more effect method to help stroke victims. With his knowledge through working with the Silver Spring monkeys Dr. Taub and his staff developed what is know today as constraint-induced movement therapy or CI. Here is a power point presentation on CI, which lasts a little over six minutes. Here’s a short video showing the application of CI.
Another section of Schwartz’s book deals with proving, using the quantum theory, that the brain and mind are two separate entities. The material was way over my head but if you would like to read his explanation it’s chapter 8 and starts on page 255. Here is a youtube video on the quantum theory. I just accepted his finding since I also believe that our mind is not our brain.
Dr. Schwartz’s actual theme of his book is about the method he developed to help his OCD patients overcome their disorder by using their minds to control the brains output. The method helps his patients over come their obsessive thoughts and compulsive responses.
Dr. Schwartz developed a four step process to help his OCD patients defeat the destructive obsessive thoughts the brain offers up periodically. The following is a brief summary of the four steps:
- Relabel – their obsessions and compulsions as a false disease.
- Reattribute – those thoughts and urges to pathological brain circuitry.
- Refocus – attention away from the pathological thought and urges into constructive behavior.
- Revalue – the OCD obsession and compulsions, realizing that these have no intrinsic value and no inherent power.
ON A MORE PERSONAL LEVEL
In my search for more information on the subject I ran across the following blogs when I keyed in google.com “self-directed neuroplasticity”. http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/02/20/self-directed-neuroplasticity-consciously-changing-your-brain-function/
According to the author self-directed Neuroplasticity is defined as “a concept that allows us to consciously control how we want our brains to work. In other words if you want your brain to become better in stressful situations, you’d “force” yourself to become more comfortable in these situations and your brain eventually adapts.” This certainly appeared to be a sound concept to me. Particularly when applied to my Anger Story mentioned before.
The concept of Self-Directed Neuroplasticity involves:
- Attention – The need to give focused attention to what you want to be encoded into your brain. In my situation, I wanted to change the way I expressed my anger. I wanted to control my anger so that I could use the energy from my emotions in a more positive and constructive manner.
- Volition (willpower) – A person needs to find a strong reason to want to change. Once a person has a strong personal reason to change, it helps give them the willpower to do what it takes to be successful. In my case, I needed to change my angry behavior to strengthen the positive bond between my two sons and me.
- Brain Activation – That occurs in part as a result of how you choose to focus your attentions and guide your willpower. In my case, I researched and read many books (this was prior to yahoo and the Internet) on emotions, anger and habits. I was searching for a better understanding why I expressed my anger as I did with my two boys when they misbehaved. I wanted, no, needed to find a way to change my thinking and behavior. And I did. My search led me down a path of discovery, enlightenment and positive change.
- Consistency – One needs to practice the behavior and thoughts they want to happen and not those they do not want. In my case I developed a better understanding why I expressed my angry emotions in the way I did. This knowledge led me to develop a way to harness my emotional energy in a more constructive way. From my understanding, how habits are formed and replaced I practiced my new behavior, my anger tree, over and over so that it would be what I did when I became emotional threatened.
Back in the late 1980s when I did my anger research and developed my anger tree to help me with my behavioral change, I knew nothing about neuroplasticity or its dark side. I just stumbled into using much of the process to achieve my goal. Now that I understand the process to change my behaviors is by using my mind to change my brain, I can see more opportunities for myself. How about you? Do you have any habits which might be destructive to you or those you love? The four step SDN process might be your starting point.
Here’s a short video by Rick Hanson you might enjoy watch about using your mind to change your brain.
I found this a very relevant and interesting video delivered by Dr. LuAnn Helms talking about how we can use SDN to improve our daily lives.
One final story for this section. After WW II, my father moved our family to McCook in 1947. About 1959 or 60, he attended a medical meeting in Las Vegas. Later I learned that his desire to attend the meeting was to learn how to use hypnosis to help his patients.
The first weekend after his return from the Las Vegas meeting he had me sit down in a kitchen chair and he proceeded to demonstrate his new medical skill on and to me. At the time I was probably 12 or 13 but even at that I still remember the event. One of the final things he told me, as I sat there with my eyes closed, was that I was going to feel pressure on my right arm but no pain. Then he proceeded to clamp a medical instrument called an Allen forceps on my arm. I did feel the pressure but no actual pain. After he awakened me he once again clamped the Allen forceps on my arm and it hurt like blazes. From then on I was a true believer in hypnosis.
Through the use of hypnosis in his medical practice, my father helped his patients, conquer their fears, delivered lots of babies, stop smoking, lose weight, reduced dislocations and even sewed up a few. On several occasions, he even helped me feel like I had a full eight hours of sleep when I had stayed up late studying for an exam the night before. It was a wonderful skill for him and many of his patients.
A few weeks ago a friend called me over to tell me her story about my father and how he had delivered two of her three children using hypnosis. She told me that they met for six or so sessions of hypnosis prior to her first delivery. Her first delivery went as he had said it would. She would feel pressure but no pain and that’s pretty much what happened. The second time she delivered so fast that a nurse helped her next little girl into the world but she had used what he had taught her and it was the same outcome, only the feeling of pressure and no unpleasant pain. She told me that my father had retired and was not available for her third delivery so she chose the Lamaze method of child birthing and her eyes were opened to what real pain felt like.
I remember the time when Dad and I were talking about hypnosis, he told me that all hypnosis was “self-hypnosis’” that he was only the guide. Now, after learning about self-directed neuroplasticity, I understand that he was only helping a person change their own brain. He was guiding their mind in a way as to accomplish what we can now do for ourselves. At this moment, I wish he were still with me so I could share what I’ve learned in my research on the topic. He would have been fascinated. To me, my father was a great man and healer of the body, the mind and the brain. Thank you, Dad.
My question to you and me is; “Now that we know we can reprogram our brains with our minds, what are we going to do with that knowledge?”
Here’s a great blog I suggest you read. You might want to sign up for her newsletters like I did. How Your Mind Shapes Your Brain.
HOW ABOUT A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE FOR A BETTER, LONGER LIFE
How about starting off with his video by Dr. Gary Small M.D. titled:
Keep Your Brain Healthy the Rest of Your Life.
Searching through what I’ve read and scholarly articles on the Internet the top behaviors to maintain or improving brain health appear to be:
- Exercise especially aerobic exercise
- Healthy Diet (normal body weight)
- Social Interaction
- Cognitive development – learning new things – both mental and physical
- Emotional Stability
- Not Smoking
- Low alcohol intake
The following are some links I found on the net, which suggest the importance of the key points above to maintaining a healthy brain.
http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20434658,00.html _ This guy is a very fast talker but he does put fourth some good facts.
Healthy Diet: Note – There is less conclusive research data to tie what you eat to brain health. Most doctors “feel” there is a link to eating certain foods and the brain. But there is definitely a positive link between eating right and health overall.
video – The End of Overeating
One last video worth watching to bring this section all together.
The Aging but Resilient Brain – Keeping Neurons Happy
Just ran across this slide PDF file online that does a very good job of summing it all up.
7 Habits of Highly Effective Brains
NOW THAT WE HAVE THE SCIENCE, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH IT?
How can we take what we’ve learned from the above material to make our lives even better? It’s my belief that each of us has certain learned beliefs, behaviors and fears, which can be replaced with better ones. The method to do so comes from the plastic nature of our brain neurons. It might be that to change some of our neural circuits we need professional guidance and for others we can do it ourselves.
Take a look at the suggested five step process and see if it might be a place to get started.
1 – I would suggest starting off with a self assessment. What is good in our life and what needs to change to make it even better?
2 – We need to accept responsibility for our lives and if there is going to be change in them it has to come from within.
3 – It’s necessary to find a couple/several good reasons for each of us “why we need to make the change/s.”
4 – Develop a strategy or plan we can use to start these change.
5 – Implement the strategy to replace the previous learned neurocircuitry with new and better circuits.
If you did not read my anger story from a previous blog entry on this site you might want to do so at this. It illustrates how I used the above five steps to changed my behavior.
Steve’s Anger Story
Self-directed neuroplasticity: I’ve had some difficulty finding an easy to understand method to practice this method. You can go back and read the 4Rs of Dr. Schwartz and read the following short web page. Want to Outsmart you Brain? Here’s another short article, mostly taken from books I’ve read which might give you some ideas. Using Neuroplasticity to be Smarter and Happier. No matter what/where you read, they all stress that much has to do with your focused attention on what you want to happen.
Self-hypnosis: I did locate a good online example of self-hypnosis. With a few changes I feel it can be adapted to many situations. Here’s the website – How to Lose Weight using Self-hypnosis.
I hope you have enjoyed reading and learning from this blog. It was my goal to bring together some of the immense amount of material out there on neuroplasticity, how it works, how we can use that new knowledge to improve our lives.
Now it’s time to continue your own learning journey.