Neuroplasticity: our elastic brains

Earlier this week, I did a Facebook Live video on the HarmlessUK page about neuroplasticity. Now, this is not something I know a huge amount about, but it is something I am learning more about. I find it fascinating that so many of the everyday things we do to improve our mental wellbeing have such a physical impact on not just our bodies, but our brains.

Neuroplasticity is the mind’s ability to change the physical brain. Its structure and function can change in response to all of the experiences we have. We can rewire and build neuropathways and connections through our entire lives – so any skill, with some patience and practice, can be learned.

How Neuroplasticity Changes the Brain

“Fire together, wire together”

This is a principle that is certain neurons keep firing at the same time, they’ll eventually develop a physical connection – this is called experience-dependent plasticity,

I found an article that spoke about Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a practicing neuropsychiatrist, who has created a successful four-step approach around ‘four Rs’ which speaks about neuroplasticity in the context of mental health recovery:

1. Relabel

The first step is to relabel a given thought, feeling, or behaviour as something else. An unwanted thought could be relabelled “false message” or “brain glitch.” 

2. Reattribute

The second step answers the question, “Why do these thoughts coming back?” The answer is that the brain is misfiring, stuck in gear, creating mental noise, and sending false messages. 

3. Refocus

The third step is where the toughest work is, because it’s the actual changing of behaviour. You have to do another behaviour instead of the old one. Having recognised the problem for what it is and why it’s occurring, you now have to replace the old behaviour with new things to do.

4. Revalue

It all comes together in the fourth step, which is the natural outcome of the first three. With a consistent way to replace the old behaviour with the new, you begin to see old patterns as simple distractions. You devalue them as being completely worthless. Eventually the old thoughts begin to fade in intensity, the brain works better, and the automatic transmission in the brain begins to start working properly.

This is all easier said than done, but it does make a lot of sense!

Enjoy your learning ~ Claire

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