The mind can be transformed and become unrecognizable.
I first learned about the power of neuroplasticity at a conference. I had no idea what it meant. I learned we could completely rewire our brains. That’s exactly what I did over a period of two years.
The process continues today. Here’s what’s strange: When I bump into people I haven’t seen since high school, they no longer identify with me anymore. I look almost the same as I did in high school, but I don’t think or sound the same. They’re confused. They can’t explain it. Most of the time they simply move on and never speak to me again.
Occasionally, their curiosity gets the better of them and they say something like, “ I can’t put my finger on it but you seem different. What happened to that skinny kid in school who loved to hang around the cool kids and listen to Tupac?”
It’s as if they’re describing another human being.
I don’t like cool people. I haven’t listened to 90s rap for a long time. The hardest part is, I hate who I was all those years ago. Most of my teenage years were spent hanging around incredibly violent people.
One night at McDonald’s, a former friend saw a guy pull up in a Lexus. The man said nothing and didn’t even look over in our direction.
My friend walked over to the Lexus. He reached through the window and punched the guy in the face. The man’s Coca-Cola went all over his white shirt. He was then dragged out of the car and onto the asphalt. That’s where he was kicked repeatedly into a bloody pulp. The white shirt was a dark red from all the blood.
My friend walked away, looked at us, and said the classic phrase from rapper IceCube, “Yeah-yeah.” We all started laughing and continued on with our night as if nothing had happened.
That’s not how I think any more thanks to neuroplasticity.
The 2008 Wake-up Call
In 2008 the world lived through a massive recession. On the day the chaos struck, I watched the news. Things looked bad. Back then I was the most pessimistic person you could ever meet.
Hours after the collapse of a major US investment bank, customers started calling my little startup and asking for refunds. People were scared. They wanted to boost their savings by canceling unnecessary expenses from businesses like mine.
Almost all of the orders we had in our customer management software were canceled overnight. The next day, I started claiming the financial system would die. I began packing boxes and storing employees’ computers somewhere safe. Office doomsday prepping had begun.
Thankfully some of the people I worked with talked me out of my pessimistic madness. Our business survived … only just. This major event became an early warning sign of the chaos that existed in my head.
I auto-applied doom to every situation rather than bet on humanity to bounce back as it has from every major event in history, including world wars and health crises.
Neuroplasticity helped break the mental wiring that caused me to see the end of the world.
The Brilliant Simplicity of Neuroplasticity
“They’ll never change” has killed many relationships.
Neuroplasticity proves this statement to be incorrect. Neuroplasticity simply means our brains can change. If you hate life or the way you think, you can completely change all of it.
It’s the idea that we’re not held captive by our genes and the world we’re born into. No, we can change how we think, and therefore, alter our circumstances rather than screaming ‘the sky is falling’ to an audience of misfits.
Inside our brains are billions of neurons. These neurons connect to others creating what’s known as “neural pathways.” What happens to you each day is made up of associations with your experience.
Learning a skill like reading forms a neural pathway. The more you read the stronger the neural pathway becomes. You get better at reading the more times you do it. The result is reading feels easy so indulge in it more. Before you know, you’re addicted to reading.
There’s a dark side too.
Bad habits can be supported by neural pathways. The love of caffeine or sex or violence can become normal. Once the neural pathway is rock solid, the addictive behavior becomes automatic. It’s why people do dumb stuff, sometimes, on auto-pilot. They simply are not aware they’re doing it.
Beliefs Shape Your Brain
It’s actually our beliefs that select our genes, that select our behavior. We are not helpless slaves to our genetic or family history — The Biology of Belief.
On the journey to change my brain, one of the most powerful exercises I did is to write down my beliefs. When asked to do so at this seminar, it sounded stupid. I assumed like many humans that my beliefs were flawless.
The daily self-talk looked like this: “My view of the world is right, and yours is wrong.” Perhaps you can relate?
My beliefs on paper looked scary. Here are a few:
- Make as much money as you can or die trying.
- Never trust strangers.
- You snooze, you lose.
- Anger is a superpower.
- Fight back and argue about everything.
- If you don’t own luxury stuff you’re an idiot. Work harder ya bum.
I’m ashamed to admit this is how I used to think before learning about neuroplasticity. I then began to compare my list of beliefs with the people next to me. The stark contrast made me feel sick.
I was an a-hole, no doubt about it.
The next question changed everything: “What would you have to believe about the world to see an empowering alternative?” I wrote down the following:
- I’d have to believe most people are kind at their core.
- I’d have to believe money doesn’t buy happiness.
- I’d have to believe we win together rather than individually.
- I’d have to believe I could be anybody I want.
- I’d have to believe kindness is a superpower.
- I’d have to be willing to change.
- I’d have to explore other cultures.
- I’d have to pull my head out of my ass.
Before writing down these beliefs, we were fed beliefs from people who have completely changed history — astronauts, presidents, sportspeople, etc. Once I learned the beliefs of high-performers, I saw my flawed beliefs driving me into chaos and keeping me stuck in a vicious cycle.
Your belief system is the mind’s map.
How to Rewire Your Brain
There are many ways to change your brain. Here are the best ways I’ve discovered.
Allow experiences to reshape your neural network
In the study of neuroplasticity is a concept known as “experience-driven plasticity.” When you seek out new experiences, new connections are created in your mind and current neural pathways are reorganized.
Learning music is one example I discovered from my research. As a kid I learned how to play drums, and later I studied sound engineering. In my first year of study, the teacher asked me “what do you hear?” I replied “a guitar.” By the end of study my answer changed to “a 70s Gibson played in a tiny bathroom, with three different levels of distortion added in post-production.”
Now I can decipher many different layers of sounds that most people hear as one thing. Hours and hours of recording people play music tuned my ears to be able to do this. As a result, the gray matter in my brain is disproportionately higher, according to research.
Music shapes our brains. Learning any new skill will change your brain.
Focus on brain health
Diet, sleep, and time in nature all help your brain health. For the brain to change and be open to new ideas it needs energy.
Sugar, masturbation, Netflix, negative people, phone screens — all take energy away from you. Think of your life in terms of energy. Do more activities that produce energy to strengthen the mind and therefore improve your life.
Play computer games
This one is heavenly. If only my teenage self knew. Computer games help rewire your brain by:
- Increasing memory and reaction times.
- Improving motor cognition.
- Making you better at problem-solving, enabling you to make decisions under pressure, and honing your reasoning ability.
- Making you work as a team with other players.
- Leveling up your resilience.
Computer games involve a lot of failure that tests your brain. The more you play them, the better you get at bouncing back from adversity — and we could all do with practice on this area. Creative thinking is also enhanced, too, every time you solve an in-game problem.
Play computer games to enhance your brain.
Adopt the gym junkie X factor
Exercise isn’t about getting buff. Exercise improves your brain.
When you exercise, according to research, your brain connectivity is improved and your motor skills get better. It may even slow your brain’s aging. For the power of neuroplasticity to thrive, cell growth in the brain needs to increase. Exercise helps here too and increases blood flow.
Do exercise to create the conditions needed to rewire your brain.
Try the overused habit peddled by yogis
The word meditation is seriously overdone. Every crackpot with a podcast shames us normies with their amazing, life-changing meditation habit. I’m sick of it. I suck at meditation. Then I realized we’re overcomplicating it. Switch the word meditation for mindfulness.
Mindfulness doesn’t require a fancy app with an overpriced subscription. You can simply sit in a chair, close your eyes, become aware of the breath and focus on the present, without all the circus tricks.
Meditation often involves the practice of letting go, focusing on positive thoughts, compassion, and relieving stress. New neural pathways are formed while you meditate that attach to these positive emotions.
When you’re not meditating, your brain makes it easier to tap into these emotions. Now you have a self-destruct switch for a bad day that your brain deploys on your behalf when it’s needed most.
Meditate because it changes the structure of your brain.
What It Feels like to Rewire Your Brain
It has been 5+ years since I completely rewired my brain. My perspective on life has changed, I’m more inspired, and my base energy levels have rapidly increased.
Neuroplasticity can help you:
- Create empowering habits.
- Remove addictive habits that destroy your progress in life.
- Adopt new behaviors.
- Relearn models of how the world works.
- Acquire new skills.
- Improve how you react to emotions.
- Get better at focusing on the tasks that help you achieve big goals.
- Narrow the focus of your mind.
- Obtain clarity of thought.
Being open-minded has made my brain flexible. It’s why I approach negative events with this question: “What can I learn from this?”
The Big, Bizarre Idea of Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity changed me from a pessimist into an optimist. That’s not the most powerful reason to explore the brain’s fine art of rewiring itself. Cliche success advice says “delete toxic friends.” The study of neuroplasticity suggests a much bigger idea.
People can change.
So hand out second chances like they’re going out of fashion.
Neuroplasticity has the power to shift culture. It can make us kinder towards one another. It can help us be compassionate. It can encourage us to work as a team, rather than destroy us with too much individualism. It can take difficult problems and make them solvable.
Maybe what the world needs is a better understanding of neuroplasticity. It certainly changed my life, and it can change yours.