The most profound book I’ve read in my recent life is The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson, Ph. D and Sharon Begley. This book was my introduction into the current world of neuroscience and it’s dynamic advances since the time I last sat in a psychology class back in high school. The most significant finding, amongst many outlined in the book, is the fact that our brain has the capacity to continue to adapt and develop throughout all of life, known as neuroplasticity. This is in contrary to the past belief that the brain stops developing after a certain age. This book is my insight into understanding The Real Power Of the Mind and a catalyst to my now near obsession with the understanding and learning about the brain and its capacity.
I state time and time again that the mind and the brain plays a significant role in our lives. It is the core of our humanity; how we operate as human beings. Without the brain or the mind humans are nothing, which is why an understanding of the role the brain and the mind play in our life is important.
Therefore, now that we know about neuroplasticity, that the brain has the capacity for lifelong growth and development, it’s time to take full advantage of the advances made through neuroscience and start applying it. Now the question is, how can I improve my brain and mind?
NOTE: There is a plethora of information and ways to improve the brain and the mind, here I am focusing on methods I have so far adopted myself.
#1 - Meditation
Meditation used to be a space in which neuroscientists were afraid to engage with due to the fear of rejection from their peers. Before, studying meditation was seen as career suicide for neuroscientists. There was a lot of stigmas not to take these scientists seriously, but through the sacrifice and perseverance of pioneering scientists, the science can now confirm the benefits of meditation.
Davidson “found that each of us is… a unique blend that describes how you perceive the world and react to it, how you engage with others, and how you navigate the obstacle course of life.” His scientific journey, “has culminated in the studies on long-term meditators...showing that we have the power to live our lives and train our brains in ways that will shift where we” are. The liberating knowledge is that “you don’t have to wait until you are a meditation Olympian, with upwards of ten thousand hours of meditation under your robe.” Research has shown that even 10 minutes a day can significantly improve a person’s attention, focus, stress level, and general mental condition.
NOTE: There are different types of meditation out there. A quick Google search will be able to assist in outlining the types and benefits of different types of meditation.
"the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally-- in other words, our thoughts and intentions"
#2 - Shifting Internal Dialogue
Davidson found that “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally-- in other words, our thoughts and intentions…for example, when athletes engage in mental imagery, focusing on the precise sequence of movements required to execute, say, a forward two-and-a-half pike, the regions of the motor cortex that controls the required muscles expand. Similarly, thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits.”
If I’m being honest, how guilty am I of negative and self-defeating internal dialogue? It’s easy to forget the force the mind and the brain plays when it comes to life because although the brain and the mind are how we experience the world, it’s also an afterthought because my inner world is not what’s at the forefront of the experience. It requires a person to pause, to introspect, to look within, and to pursue one’s own internal world to realize the significance it plays in life.
# 3 - Practicing Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset
Carol Dweck, a professor who studies Growth Mindset at Stanford University outlines her magnificent findings on the real potential the brain has through her research on children in school settings. First, let’s define fixed mindset, a fixed mindset is the belief that one is born with a set of abilities and talents. Therefore, are static in their ability to learn, grow, and change. A growth mindset is the belief that one has the capacity to continuously develop and improve their abilities and talents through continuous effort and learning. Therefore, even when faced with failure, they understand that failure is only temporary; that there’s always the potential to improve.
This simple shift in mindset is what made the difference between underperforming students and students who excelled. The theory was put to test in underprivileged neighborhoods and school districts and found that “students who were not taught… growth mindset continued to show declining grades over this difficult school transition, but those who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades.” In another “study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time, they can get smarter.”
I can relate to this story because back in middle school I went from a C and B student to a straight-A student, seemingly overnight. I even won the most improved student award back in 8th grade just because one teacher believed in me and took the time to tell me that he did. It’s not my abilities or skills that were the cause of this jump, it was the simple shift in mindset. Through my teacher’s belief in me, I understood that I had the capacity to learn, to develop, and therefore improve.
Although Dweck’s research presented findings in school-aged children, the development in neuroscience, which highlights neuroplasticity, a condition available throughout all of life indicates the human capacity for such improvements even in adulthood. The simple shift in the belief that even as an adult, I have the ability and capacity to reconfigure my brain through effort, learning, and knowledge is enough to propel me to invest in improving my cognitive world.
The lesson I draw based on all this information is realizing the brain’s lifelong capacity to grow and develop. That what it takes to improve the condition of my brain and mind is to invest time towards it. If I allocate time and effort towards improving my mental capacity and condition, then the evidence from neuroscience supports the claim, that I will see improvements. The science supports the claim that if I do the work to stimulate and improve my brain, the results will surely follow. That’s a guarantee I cannot ignore.
Begley, Sharon, and Richard J. Davidson. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live - and How You Can Change Them. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.