Five Myths to Dispel about Your Brain
Updated: Apr 17, 2018
“Relating to your brain in a new way is the way you change your reality”
- Chopra & Tanzi (2013)
Myth 1: The injured brain cannot heal itself
Some believe that when the brain is injured due to a trauma, accident, stroke etc., the connections between nerve cells are lost and victims are stuck using what ever brain function is left.
After injury however, neighbouring neurons begin compensating by attempting to rebuild damaged neural networks. This is called neuroplasticity. Nerve cells in general, are continually reconfiguring in response to experience, learning and injury.
You can promote neuroplasticity by learning new skills and exposing yourself to new experiences. Doing so passionately and with enthusiasm is all the better. Your thoughts and actions have the power to create new neural growth.
Myth 2: The brain’s hardwiring cannot be changed
Our brains are flexible, plastic and incredibly resilient. We are not hardwired. Neural networks are reshaped by thoughts, memories, desires and experiences.
In our everyday lives, if we intentionally set out to learn new things or do familiar things in unfamiliar ways (e.g. taking a new route to work), we effectively rewire and improve our brains.
A physical workout builds muscle, while a mental workout creates new synapses to strengthen neural networks. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
Myth 3: The brain loses millions of cells a day, and lost brain cells cannot be replaced
The brain loses about 85,000 cortical neurons per day or about one per second, but this is an extremely small fraction to the 40 billion neurons in your cerebral cortex. At that rate, it would take more than 600 years to lose half of the neurons in your brain. Many believe that once they lose brain cells, they are gone forever and never replaced. Permanent loss has not shown to be the case however.
The growth of new neurons is called neurogenesis. Several thousand new nerve cells are born everyday for short term memory. By exercising daily, you can increase the number of new nerve cells just as you do when you actively seek to learn new things. Emotional stress and trauma can inhibit neurogenesis, but overall as we age, key areas of the brain involved with memory and learning continue to produce new nerve cells, and this process can be stimulated by physical exercise, mentally stimulating activities and social connectedness.
Myth 4: Aging in the brain is inevitable and irreversible
Many believe that an aging brain is inevitable and irreversible. When we believe that it is impossible to teach ourselves and others “new tricks”, we can become apathetic about learning. Mental activities may become simplified and our passion for learning new things can decrease. Instead of the brain making new synapses, it keeps hardwiring the ones we already have. Fortunately, conscious choices can be made. We can choose to be aware of our thoughts and feelings and follow an upward learning curve no matter our age.
As we get older, we may feel our memories are going downhill and joke defensively about having “senior moments”. While these lapses are seen as instances of age related memory loss, they are actually due to a lack of learning and registering new information in the brain. In many cases, we become jaded or distracted about what we are doing that simple attention deficit leads to a lack of learning. When we cannot remember a simple fact like where we put our keys, it is because we did not learn or register where we put them.
ONE CANNOT REMEMBER WHAT ONE DID NOT LEARN.
Expectations are powerful triggers for the brain. If you expect to lose your memory and notice every minor lapse with anxiety, you are interfering with the act of remembering. If you become less enthusiastic about your everyday experiences, your learning potential is impaired. When you become passionate and excited about learning again however, the way children are, new synapses will form and old ones will become strengthened.
Myth 5: Primitive reactions (fear, anger, jealousy, aggression) overrule the higher brain
Our instinctive needs work hand in hand with our emotional urges to gather food, find shelter, seek power, procreate and avoid dangerous situations. Many believe that these fears and desires overrule our higher, more evolved brain. The truth is however, that our brains are multi-dimensional.
Accepting that biology is destiny defeats the whole purpose of being human. Even though we experience fear and desire every day as natural reactions to the world, we do not have to be ruled by them. We can choose how we react and in turn, how our brain circuity forms. “My brain made me do it” can only be used in very rare exceptions where choice is prohibited by preset programming. We must move away from “my brain made me do it” to becoming consciously aware of our emotions.
The road to brain wellness begins with awareness; energy flows where awareness goes. When the energy stops flowing, you can become stuck. Even though it feels very real to you, stuckness is an illusion. The rewards are unlimited when you use your brain instead of letting it use you!
Chopra, D., & Tanzi, R. E. (2013). Super brain: Unleashing the explosive power of your mind to maximize health, happiness, and spiritual well-being. Waterville, ME: Thorndike Press, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.