Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Behavioral Training “Neurons that fire together wire together”
It was once believed that the brain was hard-wired and fixed. The belief was that the adult brain could not change. However, research over the past several years has showed us that our brain is constantly changing throughout our lifespan; literally rewiring itself day in and day out. The brain’s ability to reorganize itself, to rewire itself by forming new neural connections is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows the brain’s nerve cells (neurons) to adjust their activities in response to changes in the environment.
The more a brain pathway is used, the stronger it becomes. “Neurons that fire together wire together.” There are literally billions of pathways in your brain that light up every time you think, feel, or do something. We create new connections between our neurons when we learn something new, when we think new and different thoughts. This rewiring is something that we can encourage and stimulate. Permanent brain changes can happen by changing thought patterns.
Understanding and utilizing neuroplasticity is essential in treating common human conditions such as anxiety, anger, panic, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even physical brain injuries. There are games, activities, and programs designed around the principles of neuroplasticity to help people with a wide range of issues.
All of the techniques have the underlying theme of learning new things, being open to new experiences, new activities and consciously changing, adapting and modifying thought patterns. The brain has default settings. It will automatically revert to those pathways that are most familiar. If you want a new thought, feeling or behavior to become a “default” or a habit, then it is a matter of building and strengthening certain pathways while not reinforcing others.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques focus extensively on the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT is an evidence-based treatment approach to many common conditions. The reason it is so effective is because of neuroplasticity. Examining, challenging and reframing our thinking is a conscious deliberate action. It takes awareness and practice to replace old thinking and behaviors. By deliberately practicing the thoughts and feelings that we would like to have, we strengthen those pathways which allows the brain to default to them in times of stress.
We never stop learning and adapting to our surroundings and circumstances. The saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” just isn’t true. You can change the way you think, feel and behave but you must make the effort (i.e., practice, practice, practice) to override those old neuro-connections and replace them with new, improved and more desirable ones.
If you want to learn strategies and techniques to rewire your brain, work with a professional cognitive behavioral therapist.