(Last Updated On: May 21, 2020)
Shaping the Brain

Experience Dependent Plasticity

Experience Dependent Plasticity is the continuing process of the creation and re-organization of neuron connections in your brain, depending on your life experiences. The theory means our brain changes over time, and we influence how it changes. This influence is essential for us to be aware of because we are all evolving and growing continually. If we can alter our neuron connections, we should influence them in a positive direction.

We can learn through Experience Dependent Plasticity to take out experiences and use them to build resiliency. Instead of just floating through life, and we can be mindful. Take a state of mind and turning it into a more permanent experience for how we operate in our day to day lives.

I recently listened to an enlightening interview with Dr. Rick Hanson, the author of many books that discuss this topic. This interview highlighted the fact that we are all good at having experiences, but most of our experiences tend to be wasted in daily life. Frequently, we don’t even recall the positive parts of our days after a little time has passed.

This can be because we have the all-too-common negativity bias, or perhaps we’re just too distracted and barely notice. According to Dr. Hanson, the opportunity we can have is to help our experiences leave a lasting trace in physical changes of our neural structure or function. If we have an end goal of learning and growing, as many of the clients I work with are doing, then this can be a profound tool.

The question becomes, with a growth mindset, how can you help your nervous system change for the better day today? We can choose what to focus on and choose the neuronal connections we want to strengthen. The essence of this is simple. When you are having a useful experience or an insight, stay with it for a moment. Perhaps take a breath and try to feel it in your body. Then, focus on what is rewarding about it. Specifically, if you want to get nerdy on science like I always do, this can increase dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain. This will flag your mind to keep the memory.

An example given by Hanson in the interview is a lesson learned about communicating with his wife. He discovered one day that she responded better when he leaned in. Instead of then getting distracted with more input, and likely not retaining or learning that helpful tip, he decided to stay with it for a moment. Now, he automatically leans in, which has been beneficial to their communication. He took the time to change his brain wiring intentionally.

I would love to hear your thoughts and insights on this. Please drop me a line.

Draganski B, Gaser C et al. Changes in grey matter induced by training. Nature. Volume 427, pages 311–312 (2004).
Mishra J, Gazzaley A. Harnessing the neuroplastic potential of the human brain & the future of cognitive rehabilitation. Front. Hum. Neurosci., 11 April 2014 | https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00218/full

Dr. Rick Hanson interview: https://www.marieforleo.com/2019/03/rick-hanson-inner-strength/

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