In Neuroplasticity: How To Rewire Your Brain, instructor Gregory Caremans explores the topic of neurology and seeks to explain how to rewire the brain for more life satisfaction and success.
This course is aimed at creating structural change in the brain.
Structural change leads to long-term improvements.
When new neural connections are being made, structural change happens. So, much of this course focuses on creating new neural connections (i.e. neural pathways).
Structural plasticity is the brain’s ability to change its physical structure as a result of learning. And, that structural plasticity (structural change) needs repetition to work over the long term.
Enriched environments lead to structural change.
*Note: On the left is an “impoverished environment” which is known to cause a decrease in brain cells in animals as well as humans.
And, exercises that simulate an enriched environment help the brain regain its plasticity so it will be more receptive to that structural change.
These exercises stimulate the brain’s sensory systems and motoric systems
Examples of these exercises would be:
- Shower with your eyes closed
- Switch hands for writing
- Learn to play an instrument
Stimulating sensory systems heightens all of your senses (sight, hearing, and so on). Stimulating your motoric systems improves your movements.
The neurology behind our tendency to exaggerate the dangers of physical confrontation
“Well, basically, our brain is rewiring itself to be able to better run away or fight of danger. And, in the process, making sure we don’t get too traumatized by remembering every single detail of a possible injury we end up with.
And, this is a perfectly valid strategy when we face physical danger as we have done for millions of years.
But, in today’s modern world where stress rarely leads to physical confrontation let alone a physical injury. It’s not adapted anymore.
And, in the meantime stress is everywhere and is slowly but surely undermining our neuroplasticity and our brain’s ability to function properly.”
Avoid stressful environments to boost confidence and self-esteem
“Our brain learns. Whatever we experience, we learn. Put a person in a positive supportive environment and our brain will learn that we can trust others. Now, put that same person in a fearful environment subject to physical or emotional harm and it will learn as well. The amygdala our brain center for fear and aggression will expand in size the brain teaches itself to react faster to danger, to be better prepared. It persistently increases anxiety and fear conditioning.”
“Unfortunately stress does more than that. Sustained stress will decrease dendrites and spine numbers in the hippocampus…These changes lead directly to attention loss and decision-making impairment.”
Neuroplasticity lacks a “moral compass”
Neuroplasticity’s function is for efficiency, not morality.
- “A piano virtuoso will have developed as much dexterity as a malignant hacker behind his or her computer who’s out to steal our information and money.”
- “A fan who knows all the latest gossip or their favorite singer or actors will have developed the same kind of neuronal networks than a stalker does.”
- “A soldier risking his life serving for his country he will have developed the same set of skills than a terrorist plotting the destruction of his sworn enemies.”
“Skills, dexterity, learnings, they are all based on networks of neurons submitted to the same rules of nature and that is whatever we do most whatever we pay attention to we will become better at it.”
And, Caremans’ personal warning on this is:
“I need to give you a word of caution. First, neuroplasticity has no moral compass. You see, our brain adapts to whatever we do whatever we give attention to. Its sole purpose is efficiency…This means that whatever we do most, our brain will adapt to it…So we consolidate new information more easily as it integrates in a network of related information. The same goes with our social network…This gift of nature [neuroplasticity] has far reaching consequences. Not only should we be aware of it, but we have a duty to choose wisely whatever we decide to dedicate our lives to.”
The Neuroscience of Habits
How to develop your self-control
“So, just like with the rehabilitation program, we should break things down into easier bits.”
- Visualize yourself in a temptation situation and successfully gain the upper hand. Whatever it is you want to change, visualize yourself being successful at it, make it vivid. Imagine how you would feel, incorporate details, make it as real as possible from their own work.
- (E.g. Avoiding ice cream) Look in the ice cream store window for a few seconds and then quickly leap.
- Go into the store with a friend, with the agreement that you’re not going to buy or eat ice cream and leave quickly.
- Your friend stays outside and you go in alone.
- You go in by yourself, sitting down, ordering something else, anything that is not ice cream, and then going out again.
“Build in as many steps as you feel you need…And that’s how it’s done. That’s how we learn our brain to develop willpower by gradually exposing ourselves to temptation.”
The power of words
“The thing we need to understand is that our brain shapes itself, wires itself based on what we do…This has huge consequences.
It means that whatever we expose ourselves to, that’s what ends up shaping our brain: How we think. How we see life.
Now think about this for a minute. What are you exposing yourself to the most? What kind of stuff do you read? What kind of programs do you watch? what kind of people do you hang out with? What kind of conversations are you having?
So, what’s it going to be? When you come home after your job, do you end up in front of your telly watching the latest reality TV show, or do you take an online course and expand your skills? With whom are you hanging out? People all the time complaining, or people with a positive mindset and a go-getter attitude?
…We have to be very mindful of what we expose our brain to, as it will end up shaping who we are as a person and how we go through life.”
And, to add to this, Caremans notes:
What we do most ends up shaping our brain…if we listen daily to the news and its flood of negativity, we start seeing our own world and life as a dangerous and frightening place. We end up scared and worried for things that aren’t real, at least not in our daily lives.
Strategies to Overcome Procrastination
Dopamine driven strategies to beat procrastination
- Visualize enjoying the task and the satisfaction of completing it
- Gamify the task
- Break the task down into a to-do list of sub-tasks
- Bundle the task with something you like (e.g. music)
- Look on the bright side of the task
Contextual strategies to beat procrastination
- Team up with others who will work with you on completing the task
- Find someone close to you who you can call when you’re feeling unmotivated (i.e. a buddy system / accountability partner)
- Surround yourself with action takers
- Get rid of temptation
- Change your environment
And, the “change your environment” strategy is about more than doing the task in a location that makes you feel good.
The neurology behind it is, “…if you’ve been procrastinating for a while now, you’re probably already wired to procrastinate even more. Sitting at your desk might be a trigger to start doing the stuff you shouldn’t be doing. So whenever you detect repetitive patterns in your procrastination…It’s time to break out of that pattern. And a great way to do so is to change our environment.”
Brain Hacks to Overcome Procrastination
“The Covert Start” Hack
“When we don’t feel like doing something we can trick our mind by taking the first steps of the action…your inner procrastinator will start protesting so you hush him and do it anyway.”
Caremans: “So, for example, if you need to start writing a document or something, start by turning on your computer in. A procrastinator will go, ‘But I don’t want to do it. So, you answer something along the lines of, ‘Sure, yeah, sure. I just want to have a look at the documents.’ So, you go to your word file in a procrastinator will protest again. You go, ‘Don’t worry. I just want to write the first sentence.’ Then you write the second one and the third one. And, before you know it, you’re doing that thing you were procrastinating about and the inner protesting stops as you’re too busy doing the task you’re focusing on.”
The “Wording” Hack
Next time you talk to yourself thinking that you really should be doing something, change your words. Don’t say, ‘I should be doing this.’ Say, ‘I’m doing it. I’m doing it right now.’
Now, listen to these words. ‘I’m doing it right now.’ Is this action driven? Right.
…what happens is that our brain gets contradictory information. I would say we’re in the middle of action and the rest of our body isn’t. That creates a discrepancy, a tension that can only be resolved by taking action.
So, it’s a little bit like the rest of our body goes, ‘Oh, we’ve already started the action. I wasn’t paying attention. OK, sure, let’s do this.'”
The “Third-Person Procrastinator” Hack (AKA: “Personify your procrastination habit”)
Make your procrastination habit a person.
Give it a name, make your procrastination tendencies an entity separate from yourself.
Then, observe it, talk to it, get to know it, then tell it [him/her] to back down when you feel it holds you back.
It’s a good way to be able to mentally shift the blame and not feel guilt about your procrastination.”
How To Change A Memory
What we’re going to do is to implant a new memory in our brain and overwrite the old one.
No, we’re not going to forget what actually happened.
We’ll just be feeding the brain with new additional information about the event and associate it with new emotions.
So that next time we think about the event, we’ll be at peace, thanks to the new memory.”
Strategy #1: Override your memory (AKA: the “scratch the record” technique)
Here’s the process:
- Take a minute and find a memory to overwrite.
- Find a quiet place where you won’t get disturbed.
- Sit down comfortably and close your eyes.
- Picture yourself back in the moment when everything happened.
- Relive once more what happened. But, this time, imagine it how you wish it would have been.
- Take notice of all the details. Look around you…Make it all as real as possible. (Where are you? What’s happening? Smell the perfumes in the air, feel the objects with your fingertips. Listen to the music, the sounds.)
- Give great detail to your emotions. (This is very important. Feel the joy or the pride that fills you, the happy feelings that resonates within you.)
- Slowly but surely feel the peace that fills you, the serenity that has become part of you.
- Slowly come back.
- Open your eyes.
“Now, every time we are reminded of the events we have to consciously choose to go to the other imagined version of what happens [repetition is key].”
Strategy #2: Reframe your memory / the event (i.e. challenge underlying beliefs)
Here’s the process:
- There’s no intrinsic meaning to situation: “Understand that no situation comes with an emotional value attached to it…It’s a story of values and meaning we give to the situation, which adds emotion to it.”
- Turn it into question. Why am I hurt? (e.g. “I am hurt because…I am powerless.”)
- Find evidence of the contrary. (e.g. I live the antifragile ego, I’m progressing through my list of career goals—my future looks bright, etc.)
- Look for new perspective. (e.g. I have power. And, I’m on track to gain more power in the future.)
Strategy #3: Reframe your memory / the event (i.e. adopt the growth mindset)
The growth mindset approach to reframing your memories:
- Look at the “bad” decision and look at the negative consequences of that decision.
- Imagine the hypothetical situation where we didn’t screw up. And, look that (hypothetical) negative consequences of that.
- Go back to the real situation and look at the positive consequences of your “bad” decisions. (You’ll see they’re very closely related to what you just wrote down for the step before this one.)
“Think about what could have happened down the road if you wouldn’t have learned that lesson that may make sense. Could you see now how errors, mistakes, bad decisions are necessary, are useful in their own right? Congratulations. You are now in a growth mindset.”
Caremans mentions that he’s a fan of Daniel Kahneman (see Thinking Fast and Slow) and not so much a fan of (some of) Jordan Peterson’s work in psychology, which sometimes leaves him with somewhat unique takes on certain subjects.
As a neurocognitive and behavioral expert, Caremans says,
“Now, Carol Dweck seems to imply that we have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. My personal work in research isn’t as black and white. What I have found is that we are mostly a mix of both. We can have a fixed mindset on some issues and growth mindset on others.”
Still, Caremans agrees that a growth mindset is necessary for overcoming painful memories and leaving the past in the past. And, for the most part, he seems to agree that the growth mindset can be used to reframe any fixed mindsets one may have.
How to Rewire Your Brain is not a bad course by any means, but it didn’t hold up against the alternative resources.
In terms of ROI, one could have gotten more out of reading The Power of Habit and Ultimate Power.
At times, it felt like the course taught neurology simply because it’s a neurology course and then switched to psychology when it was time to talk habit development, growth mindsets, and so on.
And, that made learning the neurology behind our behaviors interesting, but also made learning the psychology behind our behaviors feel and seem like more of a practical use of one’s time.