NEUROPLASTICITY VI WITH DR. STRAUSS
After an absence of one month, I am continuing to talk today about two more factors involved in getting the most out of our ability to rewire our brains. You will remember that we spoke about how the brain can be rewired in a positive and a negative direction: we can get our brain to become more alert, involved, motivated and curious. Following the same principle, we can also rewire it to become more detached, distracted, “spaced out”, and listless. We also spoke about how the more effort we put into trying to break through into the right mood, the more our brain will respond in its rewiring process.
Our wonderful brain becomes more efficient at rewiring; the larger the number of nerve cells that fire as a group together during a specific event. Here is an interesting example. We have known for some time that people who drink so much that they have memory blackouts the next day, may be able to recall what happened, but only once they are in the same state of intoxication they were when the blackout occurred! This phenomenon is called state-dependent learning. This does not mean that we should ever drink to the point of blackout (please only consume about four glasses of red wine a week, no less and no more), but that the more something is practised under a certain set of circumstances, the more brain cell connections are changed, and the more the brain “remembers” the circumstances in which the thing practiced occurred. To put it in a less complicated fashion, if we stretch when the sun rises just over the horizon and Queen’s We are the Champions is playing on our iPod, our brain will remember to want to stretch at dawn or when we hear that Queen song. The more we train the brain to do a certain activity under repeated circumstances, the more powerfully and reliably the activity will be performed over the passage of time.
Furthermore, the more the bundles of nerve cells work together and the more rewiring takes place, the better every cell starts learning to cooperate with its neighbours. Imagine a colony of ants that instead of being a colony are individual insects not working together. The numbers of ants in a colony vary wildly, from about 100 individuals living together (the acorn ant species) to a confirmed seven million (in a leaf cutter ant’s colony). So, let’s imagine a 100,000 ants wandering about. Each will have to forage on its own. It will have to fight off the other 99,999 ants for territory and food, and fend off other natural enemies. It will have to prepare food stashes for winter and most likely not make it through that winter anyway. Yet, when they act as a colony, they act as a single organism and can organize into many castes, or subgroupings, of ants specializing in different types of jobs (such as the queen, the worker, the soldier, the drone or the princess). Then they become so successful that today there is a super colony of ants in Europe that consists of an estimated millions of nests and billions of ants spread across Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. These nests are not interconnected, but the normally aggressive Argentine ants living in each individual colony recognize each other and behave in a friendly fashion towards other. In very much the same way, our brain’s individual cells learn to “recognize” each other and start making more and more powerfully coordinated teams. This then makes our decision (to stretch on a regular basis) so much more of a powerful and reliable behavioral production.
Who would have thought all of that can happen by our resolution to stretch more.
Next time, even more about rewiring our amazing brain.
Read more on our SHaRP Relationship Program.
About Dr. Pieter Strauss:
Dr. Strauss was born in South Africa, emigrating to Canada with his family in 1995. He has a private practice in the Fraser Valley and sees patients with mental health issues in his community. He was Head of the Psychiatry Department at a regional hospital with a staff of nine psychiatrists until last year when he decided to focus on his practice and his work at our hotel. Dr. Strauss has always been interested in long-term human relationships and envisioned enhancing relationships.