Neuroplasticity and Self-Perception

I often hear people describe themselves, “I am the kind of person who… ” or, “I am not a people person” etc. These seemingly off-the-cuff descriptions suggest that they are resigned to not changing their self-perception – regardless if it’s inaccurate or self-defeating.

Let’s look at the possibilities of using our experiences to positively shift our self-perception – and retrain our brains. Have you seen the advertisements by for brain exercises? Let me explain.

What we often refer to when we describe or how we perceive in ourselves is based on our own emotional reactions, the way we respond to adversity, and the kinds of moods that we often inhabit. And these are differences that do exist among people. They are part of an umbrella that are called ‘emotional styles’ [Richard J Davidson listed 6 of these in his book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How its unique patterns affect the way you think, feel and live—and how you can change them; and in Tara Bennett-Goleman’s book, Emotional Alchemy, she identified 10 emotional styles]. It’s one of the things that gives a lot of color to our life.

Neuroplasticity – Science Based Medicine

Back in the 1980’s, the Dalai Lama asked a group of world class neuroscientists (I believe it was aired on PBS and sections of it are available on YouTube) if the mind could change the brain. It was a loaded question with deeper meaning. Does the brain direct us, or do we direct the brain? Are we genuinely free? Or are we stuck with the way genetics [Nature?] and early childhood [Nurture?] conditioning wired our brains, with no real potential in our makeup for personal growth and spiritual transformation. The latter was the answer the scientists gave the Dalai Lama. They said the mind cannot change the brain.

However, Science was Wrong.

It’s very difficult to admit, I know; being a trained scientist myself – I earned a Ph D degree in Physics. Or, rather, the scientists were wrong at the time, nearly 30 years ago; not the science. Breakthroughs in research have now proved that the brain responds to the mind. Mental practice can take a few high level neurons and build it into a humming network, providing you with the brain power to produce optimal results in whatever you pursue. The term given to this wonderful neurological property is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity just might be a most powerful asset for the humanity.

Seek Experiences That Positively Reshape Your Brain

Sometimes the variations in our perceptions can be uncomfortable. They can result in suffering. These are all variations we know to be associated with particular brain circuits. The idea of neuroplasticity is simply that the brain changes in response to experience.

It changes in response to our actions.

It changes in our response to our relationships.

It changes in our response to specific training.

These activities will shape the brain, and we can take advantage of neuroplasticity and actually play a more intentional role in shaping our own brains in ways that may be health promoting, and ways that can cultivate well being.

It Even Works Through Imagination

Neuroplasticity even works through imagination to learn, build, and strengthen difficult skill-sets. I am sure, you are well aware of the research with visualization and the basketball training. The results were astounding. There was significant improvement on the group that only visualized; they were almost as good as the guys who actually practiced. The bottom line is that the mind can change the brain; and is widely used in sports coaching. Did you watch the movie (based on real life story), Peaceful Warrior?

You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks

The adage that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks does not apply to the brain. The brain is quick to organize around changes we want to affect when we practice consistently. When we do, neuroplasticity makes changes quickly.

  • It takes about 10 weeks for mindfulness therapy to change the brain in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • It takes about 8 weeks of cognitive therapy to change the brain in depression.
  • It takes about 8 weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction to shift the prefrontal cortical activity from right to left.
  • It takes about 10 days of constraint induced therapy to rebuild the motor cortex in stroke victims and restore significant use of an arm that physicians once thought was irrevocably damaged.
  • It takes less than one week of mentally practicing a five-finger piano exercise for the motor cortex to expand in support of the new skill.
  • It takes just about 2 hours of engaging in a video game to actually structurally build new neural networks in your brain.

Some of the problems, such as stroke damage and obsessive compulsive disorder, were once considered incurable. Yet the power of neuroplasticity is in generating significant progress in these cases and in a relatively short period of time. If neuroplasticity is this effective in extreme situations, how much more can it do to transform a brain wired for stress?

It’s amazing how dynamic these changes can be. That underscores how extraordinarily dynamic our brains are, constantly being shaped this way and that way. Most of the time we are not aware of how our brains are being shaped by the forces around us.

The most recent research indicates that many of these different mechanisms of neuroplasticity persist for the entire lifespan, and one of the most important mechanisms of plasticity is the growth of actual new brain cells. That happens throughout life, until our last day. Those cells play a very important role in plasticity.

It all comes back to practice. Through practice, we can construct a new autopilot that is wired for a calmer, clearer, more fiercely alive intelligence that can do anything we set our minds to.

NOTE: To those of you who are interested in finding more details of what I summarized above of the scientific results, here is a video talk on: Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain

I must caution that this is a highly scholarly talk but, Prof. Richard J. Davidson will explore recent scientific research on the neuroscience of positive human qualities and how they can be cultivated through contemplative practice. Distinctions among different forms of contemplative practices will be introduced and they will be shown to have different neural and behavioral consequences, as well as important consequences for physical health in both long-term and novice practitioners. New research also shows that meditation-based interventions delivered online can produce behavioral and neural changes. Collectively, this body of research indicates that we can cultivate adaptive neural changes and strengthen positive human qualities through systematic mental practice.

Dr Surya M Ganduri, PhD. PMP. is the Founder & President of eMBC, Inc., an international firm specializing in strategic and executive leadership development processes that Help People Succeed in an Evolving World. Dr Surya has over 28 years of business experience in management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvements, organizational development and youth leadership. For more information visit or contact eMBC, Inc., directly at (630) 445-1321.

About Dr. Surya

Using Quantum Physics and business research, Dr. Surya explores the correlation between the science of consciousness and patterns in the business world, to suggest innovative ways of using this wisdom to lead and succeed in a business environment that is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. Self-awareness is the awareness of the self as separate from the thoughts that are occurring at any point in time. Without self-awareness the self perceives and believes the thoughts that are occurring to be who the self is. Self-awareness gives one the option or choice to choose thoughts being thought rather than simply thinking the thoughts that are stimulated from the accumulative events leading up to the circumstances of the moment. Along with his work as an Author, Writer, Blogger and popular Internet Radio Talk Show Host, Dr. Surya is in-demand as a public speaker. Clients include small to large corporations and individuals.
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