Make Changes in Your Life by Thinking in Terms of Changing Your Brain

The human brain is probably both the most fascinating and mysterious thing in the universe. It’s capabilities are what makes us unique in the animal kingdom. As much as technology has helped neuroscientists to understand things that have puzzled minds for centuries, more about the human brain remains unknown than known today. But some of the things that are known are nothing less than astounding.

Did you know that the human brain has the potential for a number of neurological connections that is so large that it can only be expressed by the equation ten to the one millionth power? Our minds are not good with large numbers so it is easy to dismiss something like this. But this is a number so large that it is greater than all the know atoms….in the universe. This means you will never exhaust those connections in your life time, thus you in a very real sense have infinite potential.

The human brain we all have in our skull today is pretty much the same brain that has been around for the last two hundred thousand years. It evolved over the course of the two million years up until that point to just make sure we survive long enough to procreate. It’s most pressing priorities are simply to find food, run (to or from danger), and to reproduce. It’s imperatives are still the same today with a few caveats.

For reasons that are still not clear, the human brain developed an incredible ability to adapt. We know that the birth of culture, language, and our need for socialization greatly impacted the development of the brain but we still don’t know why the Homo sapien brain has this grand capability and our primate cousins don’t.

Our brains did not evolve to drive Formula 1 cars, trade stocks, fall in love, design clothes, or to surf the Internet, but there isn’t a brain around that has co-oped the ability to do these things better. We don’t know why our brains have this ability but we know how it works. It learns.

The brain has something called neural plasticity. This is the ability to physically change. The same way a skeletal muscle changes shape and size when it is worked, the brain similarly changes when it is ‘worked.’ The difference is that ‘work’ in the brain knows no directional optimization. In other words, it can’t tell if what you are doing is productive or not. The brain just registers the repetition of an activity then codes for that activity given the environmental cue. This is how bad habits form. It is also how genius is made.

Whenever we create behavior we are changing the brain. This includes thinking. How you think changes your brain. The words you use to describe the images you create in your mind changes your brain. Everything we are exposed to leaves a trace somewhere in our synapses. The adaptive subconscious can process eleven million pieces of data per second. We are not aware of this as it occurs.

To optimize the capability and processes we all have, think in terms of changing your brain. It is essentially what you have to do. When you learn something new, new neurons are created in the hippocampus, synapses connect causing axons to fire, dendritic branches grow all to facilitate learning. The hippocampus is one of the very areas of the brain that creates new neurons. Learning is the key to changing the brain but we want to ensure we are learning high quality content and learning high quality behavior. In other words, consciously choose how you want to change your brain. Novel stimulus, which triggers the neuro-chemical processes that stimulate neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity connections, and dendritic growth, can be productive or not. You will actually know, without knowing, when the changes are taking place. Your brain loves to learn and to develop mastery and excellence. We don’t know why we just know that it does. As your brain does this it physically changes and these changes do not have an end point. Children develop their identity of self in this same process up until around the age of seven then it is fined tuned from there. This is why children are always asking questions. Neural plasticity occurs throughout the life span but must be manually operated in the adult. You have to consciously decide to learn new things to change your brain. By taking the initiative and responsibility to learn new things and improve yourself, you create changes in your brain that will eventually facilitate the new behaviors on their own in the form of habits and you work Parkinson’s Law in your favor which simply states that works expands to fill the time allotted. The quality of work will be low if you do not consciously ensure that the quality of work is high.

Elliot is a personal development author. His latest book, "The Bitter & The Sweet: Benefits of a Balanced Perspective in Life, and How to Achieve It" out now.