How To Bend Your Brain (and why you want to)Every second of every day, every time you think a thought, feel a feeling, or execute a behavior there is a corresponding change in your neurocircuitry.  This ability of your brain to adapt its way of operating and to physically change based on stimuli is known as neuroplasticity.

It used to be widely accepted that the brain went through a few explosive periods of growth and change during adolescence.  Now, it is known that this capability is present until the day you die.

The thing is, you are shaping your brain all the time whether you are doing it consciously or not.  I like to think of the brain like play dough minus the funky smell.  Just like play dough, it’s malleable.  With a little effort and practice, you can shape masterpiece or you can randomly make a mess in your head. (See: Neuroplasticity: Masterpiece or Mess)

If you sit around and watch TV for hours, you are shaping your brain accordingly. If you live a stressed out, anxious life, you are supporting and reinforcing those connections in your brain.  If you always see the glass as half empty and think angry, negative thoughts, you are making a hostile negative brain.  With repetition over time, these things lead to actual, physical changes in your neural patterns.

Just as repeatedly engaging in less than optimal thoughts and actions result in less healthy brain patterns, conversely, actively partaking in more positive thoughts and actions leads to beneficial, lasting changes as well.  Your brain wires into your body your most common thoughts and feelings.

Neuroflexibility 

In their book, The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success, Jeff Browne and Mark Fenske describe the “win factor” of adaptability as being a person’s ability to take advantage of and control over the neuroplastic process by intentionally directing the changes in your brain in order to achieve your goals.  The authors call this neuroflexibilty – the equivalent of a mental back bend.

Neuroflexibility takes work, commitment, and dedication.  Deeply plastic changes can take years.  However, you can see exterior, behavioral changes way before then.  Even minuscule physical changes in the brain can bring about major changes in your life.

Transformation can be consciously directed by such practices as cognitive behavioral therapy or by purposefully making choices that challenge you by putting you in new situations and stretching your current abilities. Getting out of your comfort zone forces your brain to stretch and bend and grow.

They tell of the example of Stephen Harris in the book.  At the age of 17, he was the bass player of the legendary music group The Cult.  Remember them? Since then, he has been a successful painter, a rock climbing instructor, and is now a student on scholarship at medical school.  That’s some major brain-bending!

My Bendy Brain

In my own life, I have made radical changes in my thinking and behaviors in the last couple of years.  Think complete turnaround.  If I did not look the same on the outside, I doubt that people would recognize me.

Having a global brain injury actually assisted  me in adopting new ways of thinking and behaving because the injury obliterated many of the well-carved pathways already established  in my brain.  To be able to learn to live and function again, I had to grow new connections.  It was a major brain bend.  I could have just gone back to the same patterns and grown the same old brain, but it had not served me too well before which was evident by my suicide attempt.

And, for the most part, I didn’t even remember what they had been.  I like to think that I upgraded to a better model!

Now, while I do not advise a brain injury for anyone….you can do it too.  Go ahead.  Be brave.  Step outside of your box.  Bend your brain!

14 Comments

  1. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    Right on target, as always. You just get better and better. Mom

  2. I loved this. Everything said in this blog is true. The brain is so magnificent. Bending your brain with positive thoughts brings positive results in how you feel and operate on a day to day basis.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Yes, the brain is powerful and amazing. The challenge is to get people to realize this and harness it and channel it positively. The possibilities for the individual as well as human kind and the planet are infinite.

  3. Hiya’ Debbie,
    I love that you upgraded your brain to a better model. Yay!
    Wow about Mr. Harris, I remember The Cult, that’s an amazing story. The human brain never ceases to amaze me. I’ve been lucky to have implemented some cognitive therapy techniques, when I started having some pretty significant health challenges about fifteen years ago. To this day, I can fall back to those powerful techniques and feel better.
    Again, wonderful post, m’lady. Thank you!
    ~xo

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Lori, good for you for harnessing the power of your brain. Right on, soul sistuh! I know in your case it is especially important, but it is important really in everyone’s lives…just in different ways for all of us. I think in the next half of mine I am going to go the way of Mr. Harris and become a rock star. Sounds like fun! 🙂

  4. Debbie, I love how reader-friendly you make the idea of neuroplasticity and brain flexibility. I’m glad you point out that deep changes take repeated effort and take time, although some changes can be seen early on. I’m a complete believe in training the mind – it’s the basis of so much ancient wisdom.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Although all this stuff can get pretty complicated, I can’t get too complex! I just try to break everything down and relay it in simple, real life terms I can understand. 🙂 Neuroplasticity is something, I believe, every one should understand and start utilizing to their benefit! It needs to become a household word. It really can change everything for anybody.

  5. Hi Debbie, I think it’s so encouraging that the brain is flexible throughout our lives. It lets us know we can fix things or at least improve areas that make us unhappy. Several years ago I decided to improve my balance although I was told by experts that I was born with soft injury in that area. Doctors even suspected cerebral palsy at one point!

    It turns out that balance, among many other skills, can be improved with practice. While I’m hardly a gymnast, I’m now as good as the average woman my age, and I hardly ever fall anymore.

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  7. Ande Waggener Reply

    Debbie, your story is so powerful. I love the term, “brain flexibility.” It makes the idea of reshaping the brain seem so much more accessible.

    My husband had a brain injury 4 years ago that wiped out his lifetime memories. He’s been been able to build his belief system from the ground up, and he’s a far more positive, happy person as a result. And it’s spilled over onto me … lucky me!!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thank you for your kind words, and good for your hubby! Yeah, a brain injury, for me, was a blessing in disguise. I like the me now much better than the old me even if she does talk funny and her writing looks like chicken scratch. I am a much happier, centered, positive person. I think the difference is that this time around, I got to consciously choose and learn my way of thinking and reacting. The first time around it was just unconsciously absorbed from my environment. Any one can do it, but a brain injury kinda gives you a head start. (Pun intended!) The best presents do not always come in the prettiest wrapping!

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