Our lives often feel rushed, and we frequently deal with the effects of chronic stress.
Have you ever been driving to work and looked behind you only to see blue lights and get the sinking feeling of being pulled over? When the officer tells you that you were speeding, you may not believe them because you have no memory of the past few minutes. You were lost and distracted, yet the fact that you were speeding was putting your life at risk and other people at risk.
This is just one example of how not being mindful, being easily distracted, and not training our brains can affect our quality of life and even our safety.
It’s possible to combat stress, feel happier and be more present to enjoy everything happening around us by rewiring our brain.
It sounds like a New Age trend, but the reality is that brain imaging studies show how malleable our brains are. There’s a term for it—neuroplasticity.
Our brains are constantly building new connections as we learn things and challenge them. On the other hand, those connections can also be broken.
For example, with chronic stress exposure and a lack of healthy coping mechanisms, the structure and function of your brain change. There are chemical effects in your brain, and these then impact your mood and behavior going forward.
Below, we cover ways you can rewire your brain for positive change, whether you want to be more mindful, reduce your anxiety, or break bad habits while rebuilding new ones.
So often, we think of our brain and how it functions as being a fixed part of our identity. For example, if you have anxiety, or perhaps you have a bad temper, you may think this is just who you are, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The truth is, all of our experiences make up how our brain works and we do have the ability to change it.
We tend to be on autopilot throughout our life, so our brain’s plasticity isn’t being challenged and changed as it could be.
Brain plasticity or neuroplasticity refers to your brain’s ability to adapt through experience.
Neuro refers to our neurons. Neurons are the building blocks of our brain, as well as our nervous system. Plasticity is the malleability of our brain.
Around 86 billion neurons make up our brains. For a long time, researchers thought that after we were born, the creation of new neurons ended. Now we know that our brain has an infinite ability to reorganize its pathways, create new connections and even build new neurons.
There are two types of plasticity—functional and structural. With functional plasticity, your brain can move functions from a damaged area to one that’s not damaged. With structural plasticity, your brain’s physical structure changes through learning.
The benefits of brain plasticity include learning new things, improving cognitive skills, and even recovering from traumatic brain injuries.
Researchers are currently looking at the role of neuroplasticity in treating mental health conditions, among other things. For example, it’s possible the negative thought patterns occurring with depression could come from problems with neuroplasticity. By doing exercises that promote positive neuroplasticity, you could perhaps rewire the negative patterns improving your well-being.
So how can you rewire your brain, regardless of your goals?
Meditation is one of the simplest, most effective ways to rewire your brain, and it has benefits for everyone, no matter what you want to achieve. When you meditate, you’re quieting your mind, using breathing techniques.
You only need to meditate for two minutes a day to start permanently rewiring your brain.
A review at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and depression, anxiety, and pain. Researchers found there was a moderate effect of meditation on symptoms.
When you meditate, you aren’t just sitting and zoning out. You’re actively training your brain.
In 2011, a team at Harvard found mindfulness meditation changed the structure of the brain, including increasing thickness in the hippocampus. Specifically, a part of the hippocampus was positively affected that regulates emotion and helps with learning and memory.
Get In the Flow Zone
Some programs help train you to get into the so-called flow zone. These programs typically utilize meditation and teach you techniques that help you tap into your full potential to help you increase your performance, your skills, your positive thinking and your overall mindset.
When you get into the flow zone, you’re taking advantage of neuroplasticity to eliminate brain barriers that prevent you from reaching what you’re capable of.
Harness the Power of Visualization
When you practice visualizing what you want out of life and who you want to be, you’re helping yourself get closer to your goals. There was a study called “The Future of Memory: Remembering, Imagining and the Brain.”
According to this study, your brain can’t differentiate between a memory and a vision you have for the future, at least not always.
So what does this mean?
Basically, if you visualize what you want out of life or what goal you’re going to achieve, your brain can start to think it’s reality. You’re setting yourself up to achieve whatever it is you’re visualizing in your real life.
It’s a tactic athletes often use to increase their performance, and it takes just 5 to 10 minutes a day. You should plan to do it for at least six weeks for long-term rewiring effects.
Imagine who you are and what you want to accomplish.
Finally, when you practice gratitude every day, it can help rewire your brain to see things in a positive light, making you happier.
Rather than dwelling on the negatives, sit down each morning or evening and write out three things you’re grateful for, no matter how big or small they might be.
Over time, when the practice of gratitude becomes a habit, you’ll see your thought patterns are reframed, even toward otherwise negative situations.