Up until recently it was thought that if you were born with a certain mental heritage, you will not be able to change it ever. Researchers believed that your mind configuration is the same throughout your life, that the connections between your neurons are fixed and rigid.
This means that if you were born a shy person, you will be like that the rest of your life, or that if you do not have inclinations to math you cannot be a good scientist. Many people still believe these facts and still live their lives under these terms. There is no one to blame.
Recent research shows that these assumptions are not correct anymore. In fact, the existing neuronal connections can be untied, while other connections can be created. These neuronal connections that we are talking about are encoding different traits of character and different behaviors that you have.
Neuro what? Neuroplasticity…
These behaviors can be untaught, while other behaviors and habits can arise. The temperament of a person can be changed. With learning, repetition, and experience accumulation the shy can become the bold, while the fearful can learn how to efficiently attack his fears.
This characteristic of neural reconfiguration is known as neuroplasticity. It is difficult to change habits because of the hard wired neuronal connections which have been created and reinforced through time.
Your brain operates under the rule of energy conservation. When you do or try something for the first time, there is discomfort. The brain is processing this new information and it is not familiar with it. It does not like the feeling (you do not like the feeling) because it has to digest it bit by bit. This is discomfort explained.
That’s the reason why you remember so vividly your first driving lessons, your first kiss, and your first flight with the plane. The brain eats an enormous amount of information coming from all your senses so that the next time it encounters this particular experience, it wants to be prepared for it. It wants to save energy.
As time passes and the experience or the activity becomes repetitive, the brain turns the unfamiliar into familiar, and eventually into a habit (if it is enforced enough). By the time the habit is created, the neuronal connections which define this habit are quite strong. Besides, there’s the chemical part as well (the emotions released whenever you are doing the habitual activity).
We are deeply rooted into our habits. In fact, I wrote in a recent article that more than 40% of what we do everyday is habitual work and it does not imply active thinking. So, you’d better develop some successful habits. See what great people do and replicate on their behavior.
Ohhh! The bitter-sweet taste of dark chocolate. I indulge on it every evening…Oh, the satisfaction, the dopamine release!
Even so, everything can be changed. We are intelligent creatures. We have to systematically attack every problem we have. And do it in a rational manner.
Do you wanna learn to dance? Well, have a look at those who dance the type of dance you’d like to learn. Activate your mirror neurons. Tomorrow night start repeating-on some steps. Then, the day after tomorrow, do it again. Repeat the action a few nights in a row and you’ll start seeing something take shape. Your legs will stop being made of wood.
What is “systematic”?
Have a look at this person.
This is systematic. She learned to dance from scratch. She became a very good dancer by repeating and improving on the same activity 365 days in a year. Basically there is nothing you cannot learn.
You wanna quit smoking or change a negative habit with a positive one?
Please, but please, don’t put pressure on your brain by saying that “starting tomorrow I will never smoke again, ever!” You’ll end up a few days earlier smoking more cigarettes than ever and feeling guiltier as fuck…
Tackle the problem systematically. Reduce your dosage. Start exercising. Go for a small run. Reduce your nights-out. Spend more time with non-smokers. This is a rational approach.
It is progress and not sudden change the better way to deal with it.
If someone would have ever told me that I will enjoy getting my head stuck in biochemistry textbooks every day for a couple of hours (having nothing to do with this subject ever) or that I will enjoy reading books, or that I will quit smoking, or that I will trade the nights out with the nights spent attending conferences and seminars by doctors and experts on metabolism, higher physical performances and neurodegenerative diseases, I would have called that person delusional.
But, beginning very shy, doing it systematically, I’ve develop those same habits that I wanted to develop. And, by spending as much time as I can on doing those activities they will become easier, more enjoyable, and more natural. It’s the law of energy conservation. It’s what our brains love to do most.
It is the same way by which physical performances are achieved. Talent is not an excuse anymore. Whatever you would like to do, you can do it. You cannot keep invoking the same pitiful motives that you are not made or born to do this or that.
Epigenetics and change…
The brain is a structure that can change. Up until recently researchers believed that genes are unchangeable. They thought that you have the same genetic code for your entire life. Again, this theory has been debunked. It is not available anymore. Epigenetics is the field that studies and experiments on how external factors and stimuli change gene expression.
Are you that kind of person with weak muscles? Are you the one not born to exercise? That’s okay. Start lifting weights or do the sports you’d like to do most. Do it consequently and systematically and you’ll see the changes emerging. Your gene expressions will change and your muscular fibers count will change as well. Your brain will change. I’m referring to studies to support these claims in the book I’m currently writing. See the end of the article for more details.
Thanks to neuroplasticity, you can become a different person. Thanks to neuroplasticity you cannot throw the ball into another field, you cannot find the guilty in other people for what you are. You have to take full responsibility for what you are and what you have. It’s the beginning point of change.
Key Take Aways
The most important concepts that I’ve read in neuroscience have been taught by Dr. Joe Dispenza and Dr. Daniel G. Amen. I’d like to point out a few short and easy steps that you could follow to achieve a certain trait of character, a certain skill, or certain ability. It’s basically a strategy to reach your goals (if you have them):
1. Find your anchor. Know exactly where you are right now. If your internal GPS cannot locate your right position, you won’t be able to take even the smallest step further.
It doesn’t matter who you are or why you got here. Don’t look for the guilty. Doing so, you focus your energy in the wrong direction. It doesn’t matter how you got here, unless it helps you better understand where you want to go.
2. Pick your destination (goal, purpose, or desired trait of character). What is it exactly that you want? You wanna be a ballet dancer? You wanna become a magician? A Nascar racer? A top chef?
Know exactly where you wanna go. This is gonna build your new neuronal network.
Setting your goal is establishing the direction and initiating the movement toward it.
3. Take the systematic approach.
Start doing what you want to accomplish. Take the first step. It’s always the toughest. Take massive action.
If you wanna be a chef, go into the kitchen and try cooking something. Taste it. Does it taste awful? Does it taste like chicken? 🙂
If you don’t like, throw it. Open Youtube and search for the top chefs worldwide and see how they cook what you wanna cook.
Go back into the kitchen. Try it again. Change your approach? Does it taste better? If it does, you’re in the right direction. Keep going. If not, change your approach again.
If you’re in the play zone and if you’re in the middle of the events (in the kitchen), your mind will start configuring itself into a certain way. Doing it consistently and repetitively (systematically), the neuronal connections that you create and build upon will become stronger and you will become better at what you do (cooking, in this context). As time passes and as you keep going, everything will become more natural and easier to accomplish.
That’s just about it.
Find out where you are and find out what you want. Then start moving in that direction. The rest of it fades as details.
If this is too abstract, please tell me and I will try to explain further. If you wanna know more about neuroplasticity, just shoot me a message in either of the comment sections below and I will do my best…
1. Dr. Joe Dispenza – Evolve your Brain: The Science of Changing your Mind
2. Dr. Daniel Amen – Change your Brain, Change your Life – The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Anger, and Impulsiveness
3. Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in Business and Life
4. Schwartz, J. M., & Begley, S. (2002). The mind and the brain: Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force. Regan Books/Harper Collins Publishers.
5. Azmitia, E. C. (1999). Serotonin neurons, neuroplasticity, and homeostasis of neural tissue. Neuropsychopharmacology, 21, 33S-45S.
6. Allis, C. D., Jenuwein, T., Reinberg, D., & Caparros, M. L. (Eds.). (2007). Epigenetics.
7. Andersen, J. L., & Aagaard, P. (2010). Effects of strength training on muscle fiber types and size; consequences for athletes training for high‐intensity sport. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 20(s2), 32-38.