Learning, Change And The Science Of Pimping Your Brain

Edward Demming once said, "Learning is not compulsory but neither is survival!"

And in today's fast-paced world your ability to learn, unlearn and relearn is key. In NLP we say the map is not the territory and this applies to scientific maps as well.

So a basic understanding of recent scientific research about the brain is worth getting on your map about the nature of learning and change. Before I get into that, let's clarify what the process of "learning" means from an NLP viewpoint. In its most basic definition, we can say that learning equals behavioral change.

This definition goes much deeper than the idea that you've learnt something when you can recite it. Rather this definition points to the idea that in any contexts where skills play a key role, your ability to demonstrate and do the thing you've learnt is the criteria for whether you have "learnt" that something. Unfortunately based on this definition a lot of training, books and learning resources would fall short. (More on why in a future post.)

So what insights can science share...

Science Gets An Update

Up until the 1980s, scientists held the view that the brain did most of its development in our childhood years and after it had pruned back the excess connections of the structure was essentially fixed.

To quote one of the world's leading neuroscientists Fred Gage, the old idea was: "If the brain was changeable, then we would change. And if the brain made wrong changes, then we would change incorrectly. It was easier to believe there were no changes. That way, the individual would remain pretty much fixed."

This old and outdated view of the brain was forever changed with the groundbreaking work that has been occurring within the field of neuroplasticity over the past two decades.

The latest research by neuroscientists today indicates that:

  • Up until the 1980s scientists held the view that the brain did most of its development in our childhood years, and after it had pruned back the excess connections, the structure was essentially fixed.

  • The structure of our brain is not fixed

  • That the brain is highly malleable and subject to continual change as a result of experiences

  • That our brain is constantly reorganizing throughout our lifetime 

So the good news is - if you are not happy with who you are or what you can do, you can change, regardless of age.

Going Deeper: How Your Brain Changes

Yet the breakthroughs didn't stop there. Further research brought home an equally important update on our understanding of the brain.

  • That the actions we take - each and every moment - can literally expand or contract different regions of the brain over time.

  • That through experiences, we can change not just the brain's structure (anatomy) but also its functional organization (physiology). In layman's terms that means our brain will devote more cortical "real estate" to functions that we use more frequently and less to those we rarely perform (so be mindful of how you habitually act).

Learning is always happening - both consciously and "unconsciously" (i.e when you are not consciously aware you are learning something the brain is always learning).From an NLP perspective, this brings us to an interesting point...

Everything you say or do is some form of practicing, instantiating a certain thought-feeling-behaviour on your brain. When you repeat the process many times (habituate a thought, evoke strong affective imagery etc.) you influence the configuration of your brain. We each have done this countless times.

Kinda cool, isn't it?

But equally this ongoing process is something that you will want to be mindful of - because the more frequently and with a richer intensity you repeat certain activities (thoughts, feelings, movements) the more your brain's real estate is wired to produce that result - on cue. Over time your brain can be triggered to create an emotional response or thought process by a greater number of generalized stimuli. (i.e. your brain has generalized the trigger).

Bottom line is what you habitually do you become more of.

So if you habitually talk badly to yourself or get annoyed whenever anyone is late for example then that is the instruction you are giving to your brain to wire and zone for brain real estate.

The question to ask yourself is - is that what you want?

If not, maybe now is a good time to pimp your brain!

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I'm Tom.

Everyone has something they’d like to change in their life. I’m here to help you transform the behaviours that get in your way so you can have the life you really want.

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