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Neuroplasticity: A Bridge Between the Physical and Metaphysical

Updated on July 12, 2017
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Lawyer, research/writer and social activist, working alongside many Australian and international non-profit third sector society orgs.

The Science

Within some of the greatest medical breakthroughs pertaining to the human brain, particularly in the modern world, we stumble on the scientific method of neuroplasticity, which explains the way our minds function and are changeable in relation to positive thinking. Deploying such methods can have profound effects on our lives, both emotionally and materially, as it manifests our internal world in our outward experiences of the same.

Such a discovery continues to gain further scientific acknowledgment and acclaim. The coined term itself, 'neuroplasticity', paints a picture of the complex system at play. 'Neuro', dealing with the brain and 'plasticity', the characteristic of being able to be moulded or reshape. Our brains natural ability to create new thinking patterns and chemically strengthen neural connections within our physical cerebral features is able to change itself as we change our thoughts in the way we respond to new environments.

Norman Doidge M.D expresses his expertise in the field of neuroplasticity in his New York Times Best Seller book, “The Brain that Changes Itself.” Although a myriad of academic and scientific research can be found on this topic with a quick Google search, Dr Doidge manages to encapsulate complex cognitive structural alterations in a manner that's easy to digest.

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Modern Day Minds

In modern day society the prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression in people of all different walks of life is higher than ever before in the span of humanity’s entire existence. More worrisome, is that this increased general mental attitude towards nervousness is increasingly prevalent in those of adolescence and young adult years.

We could speculate for days on why this is so. One such speculation could stem from the fact that a mere fifty years ago, kids were more commonly found playing with each other in real life, engaging with their outside world on the streets rather than viewing people and places only behind screens. The result of which could be deduced to a higher feeling of separateness and isolated, leaving more and more kids ending up in a therapists office purging inner inadequacies and early-on-set existential angst.

Other broad societal changes can also affect how younger people experience the world at large, with further lasting psychological effects; tribulations associated with the advent of the internet age, for example. From a place of separateness and isolation, we are more readily able to feed our fears and anxieties than our hopes and dreams. We spend, accumulate and consume more than we need to spend, accumulate or consume, at times not even realising we’re behaving as an addicted consumer rather than an informed shopper purchasing product A for purpose B.

We also look to external influences for strength, guidance, support and acceptance rather than inwards towards ourselves for the validation that only true self-love and self-respect can provide. We’re around so many people who are just as afraid of their own insecurities as we are, that we come to think this is normal behaviour, to allow such burdensome feeling to increase with passing years because we choose not to do the digging work required to solve them. Only to end up more likely to project and reflect these fear based insecurities on others, teaching them and priming them to do the same to others.

Next thing you know everyone’s miserable, war is considered 'human nature' and an unavoidable occurrence in the realms of interpersonal interactions and we continue to allow ourselves to be mentally conditioned and controlled by external forces.

Some still consider claims such as neuroplasticity to be pseudo-science. That things within and without people are simply the way that they are and that’s all they’ll ever be. But this is not the case and science is here to usher in a new wave of thinking, break down old paradigms and catapult society into a new way of being which takes into account physical, emotional and mental needs.

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Fight v Flight

Despite these concepts of positive thinking to creating positive results becoming more and more commonplace, one still might wonder how steadfast we are in our beliefs of this and do we really utilise them as much as we could in our day to day lives?

A common counter argument to this 'positive thought' movement is that we, as humans whose behaviours are deeply rooted in our primordial instincts, are just naturally dispositioned towards fear and negativity. That we need to be like this, to be able to survive. Though our animalistic origins may have equipped us with the tools necessary to transmute fear into means of survival, what with fight or flight instincts, this does not paint a comprehensive picture of the nuances of what it means to be a human being.

Yes, we do have mental structures that automatically create chemical reactions of cortisol boosts to engage our survival instincts when our senses notice something as being "off." But the totality of the human expression is to transcend our beast-like origins into something more embodying of consciousness, to think, examine and conclude things. It is the miracles of the human mind and spirit that enables us to behave in a way that employs more consciousness rather than living from a triggered, automatic behaviour response - it's this ability which separates us from other mammals and finely tunes our sophisticated way of being.

Thinking positively gets a bit more tricky when taking into account experiences of trauma sufferers in particular, or those previously exposed to repetitious abusive and harmful behaviours. While we all do the following, trauma sufferers especially go through life operating from a level of confirmed bias’ from the experiences they have been exposed to.

The topic of conscious and unconscious bias, is particularly popular in workplace management and H.R circles these days, so the term may ring a bell, but I won’t dwell too much on the mechanics of the various other cognitive bias'. Confirmed bias however, at its basic core, is a set of prejudices a person internalises from their experiences. It’s sort of like a mental prism in which all newly experienced facts or data gathered by a person as they experience life, is filtered through the lens of what the person already believes to be real.

Confirmed bias blurrs our ability to separate our feelings from fact whist we try to process new information. For example, a child of abuse and abandonment will no doubt develop trust and separation anxiety issues. We are all easily able to spot this occurrence in other people but when we try to apply the same pattern behaviour to ourselves, that primal survival instinct within all of us starts to kick in. It’s a defence mechanism because the reality of the situation, the brutal fact that we are continuing to create our own suffering is a very difficult thing to logically bear. A dissonance is then created when how we emotionally feel and what we logically know don't match up.

So to help us cope and enable our survival with that sad reality, we lean towards ignoring our confirmed bias' instead of digging through our emotions until we reach a point where we can acknowledge the difficulty realities presence within ourselves, but also not allow it to cloud our ability to see things as they truly are.

Power of Positive Thought

Rewards Take Work

Sometimes, even for years at a time through our lives, we subconsciously react to environments and people around us; doing so from a purely reactive, autopilot place.

There's a common saying in regards to children, although I think it to be relevant to everybody who still struggles with living from a place of internal balance and harmony, which is that 'children are like a sponge, soaking up every emotional factor that surrounds them.' Which is true, as we all absorb things from other people and our own environment. Despite out brains being more brilliant than the most powerful computer, able to process tonnes of data in seconds, at our core we are emotional beings. We need to invest the same amount of time and energy into processing our emotional activity, as we offer to our mental pursuits.

For if we do not work at our emotional processors, we subconsciously end up harbouring negative feelings, storing memories of negative incidents and develop ourselves in accordance with these negative experiences and this is how confirmation bias snowballs into self-destructive results.

If not dealt with appropriately, a person could go through their entire lives reactively to situations and negativity that have happened 50+ years ago, instead of acting responsively to the here and now.

Critical examinations of ourselves, harsh judgments of what we have or don't yet have or need to be before success and happiness can reach us, along with all the other negative internal conversations we have within our minds, alters our perception of the world at large and our place amongst it all. Over time we lose the objectiveness of being able to differentiate what is just internal chatter and what is hard fact. This is where neuroplasticity comes into play, because it bridges the divide between internal conversation and external perceptive experience, into one unifying theory that you do not have to remain a prisoner of your past, as difficult as it may have been, but that we are all the creators of our own destiny.

Neuroplasticity is science’s poster boy for positive thinking. It acknowledges that we are creatures of habit but that the habits we cultivate, be it positive or negative, are purely a result of our choosing. If positive reinforcement is habitualised then we’re able to cultivate increased feelings of gratitude, compassion and empathy, resulting in an overall higher rate of personal satisfaction. By replacing new, better thought and behaviour patterns while letting go of the old ones that no longer serve us, we are able to emotionally feel and rationally think the way we would ultimately like to and not confine ourselves into behaving a particular way purely because we're used to it.

The beneficial results of such practices are not solely confined to healing of the mind or emotional spheres either. The groundbreaking aspects of Dr Doidge's work is that he claims by habitualising the power of the human mind to operate from a consistent, positive level we can also reverse physical symptoms such as stroke, degenerative heart disease, physical ailments and pains, muscular and tissue repair, as well as the mental diseases of anxiety and depression or emotional wounds left by grief and loss.

It’s not an easy habit to cultivate though, not even for myself, and it does take a fair bit of commitment to dedicate yourself towards applying this belief, of being able to change your thoughts and actions despite however you may feel, to every waking moment of your life.

The fruits of your labour when able to consistently achieve this however, are more wonderful than could be imagined.

Heal Yourself

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