Did you know that your brain is plastic? I’m not referring to the synthetic material used to make water bottles and grocery bags. I’m referring to the other definition of plastic – meaning something is malleable, pliable, and able to be reshaped.
This phenomenon is known as neuroplasticity – a remarkable process that quite literally allows our brains to be reshaped and rewired. And when we intentionally tap into our brain's innate plasticity, we can supercharge our health and happiness.
Today, we’re going to explore exactly what neuroplasticity is, what happens in your brain when it “rewires” itself, and most importantly – how you can use this process to amplify healing, boost your well-being, and transform your life from the inside out. Let’s dive in.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity – also sometimes referred to as neural plasticity or brain plasticity – is your brain and nervous system’s ability to adapt structurally and functionally. It’s the process by which your brain is able to change, reorganize, and grow new neural networks. This built-in capacity to change starts the minute we are conceived and continues until the minute we die.1,2
Neuroplasticity is what makes your brain such a complex and highly malleable learning machine. That can sound a little abstract and complicated at first, so let’s dive a little deeper into how exactly neuroplasticity works.
How Does Neuroplasticity Work?
Every emotion you feel, thought you think, and action you take is triggered by an electrical impulse in your brain. Your brain cells communicate with each other and with the rest of the cells in your body through these electrical impulses – creating a vast, interconnected, and highly complex network of pathways known as neural pathways through which these electrical impulses travel.
But these pathways are not set in stone. They are adaptable and malleable – meaning new pathways can be forged and others can be entirely shut down. Think of it like this:3,4
- Anytime you think a thought, experience an emotion, or perform an action or skill, communication signals fire off in your brain and travel down a distinct neural pathway.
- The more frequently or intensely a neural pathway is used – meaning the more frequently you think a thought, experience an emotion, or perform an action or skill – the stronger the neural pathway becomes.
- These strong, frequently used neural pathways essentially become a superhighway – making it extremely effortless and efficient for your brain to continue sending signals down this well-worn pathway.
- And because your brain is hardwired to conserve energy and keep you safe, your brain by default, is going to want to continue traveling down this well-paved superhighway that it’s familiar and comfortable with.
- But when something shifts and we begin to think new thoughts, experience new emotions, and/or practice a new action or skill, our brain is forced to begin forging a new neural pathway.
- As our brain tries to blaze this new pathway, we can be met with resistance or discomfort and it can feel unnatural. This is because rather than traveling down a smooth superhighway, new neural pathways are like traveling down an overgrown bumpy dirt road.
- But if we continue using this new pathway and begin using the old superhighway less and less, the tables turn – allowing the new pathway to become a smooth, well-paved roadway that can replace the old one.
This ability to forge new neural pathways while allowing others to wither away is what makes our brains so incredible and so powerful. And what’s even more remarkable, is how we can tap into the power of neuroplasticity to transform our health from the inside out.
Neuroplasticity and Your Health: The Healing Power of Rewiring Your Brain
Your mind is one of the most powerful tools you have when it comes to your health. The thoughts, feelings, and actions that you experience the most frequently inevitably shape every facet of your health – physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and more. You see, those smooth, well-worn neural pathways can either serve you or harm you in a couple of distinct ways:
The Release Of Hormones and Neurotransmitters:
Your frequent thoughts and emotions can affect you in more obvious ways like triggering the release of different hormones, chemicals, and neurotransmitters. It’s no surprise that stressful, negative emotions release compounds that are harmful to your health while positive thoughts and emotions (like fun, connection, and peace) release healing, feel-good compounds.
To learn more about how emotions like stress and negativity can impact your health (and how you can reframe and overcome them), head over and read my article Becoming Stress-Proof: Dr. Jill Carnahan On How To Reduce Or Eliminate Stress From Your Work.
You Meet Yourself Where You’re At:
You meet yourself where you’re at means the image you hold of yourself and how you identify will greatly impact how you show up in your life. If you view yourself as and identify as a chronically ill person who is inherently “broken” that’s how you’re going to show up in your life.
And vice versa – if you view yourself as creative, resilient, healthy, and able to overcome anything, you’re simply going to show up differently in your life. How you view yourself and what you believe is possible will not only dictate what you think and feel, but will inevitably impact the actions you do (or don’t take) and the habits that collectively contribute to your health.
So how can we tap into the power of neuroplasticity to not only heal, but thrive?
How to Use the Power of Neuroplasticity to Boost Your Well-Being
If you’re wrestling with a chronic illness or battling ongoing, unexplained symptoms while searching for answers, it can be easy to direct all your focus on healing your body. But tapping into your brain power and deliberately rewiring your brain can supercharge your ability to heal and boost every facet of your well-being. If you’re ready to rewire your brain for healing and optimal health, two of the most powerful practices you can incorporate are:
Redefining Who You Are:
One of my favorite quotes by Earl Nightingale is “ Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become your reality.” How you define yourself and the ways in which you talk to and about yourself are key to creating your reality. To tap into healing you must let go of any stories of sickness, brokenness, or unworthiness and create a new identity of health, resilience, and autonomy.
It’s from this place that your mind and body can come together – allowing you to take aligned action that creates an upward spiral of well-being.
Finding Your State of Flow:
Flow state is a distinct mental state in which you experience a sort of fluidity between your mind and body – allowing you to be entirely present in the moment and laser-focused on what you’re doing. If you’ve ever been completely immersed in something – to the point where you’re completely absorbed, lose track of time, and feel “in the zone” – then you’ve experienced a flow state.
This feeling of “being in flow” helps us feel a sense of purpose, passion, and presence. This state of being helps you trust in your ability to figure things out and can transform feelings of fear or apprehension into a sense of control and excitement. And from this place, it’s much easier for your subconscious to forge new neural pathways – rewiring your brain for more health and happiness.
To learn more about the power of flow state and how you can tap into it, be sure to head over and read my article What Is a “Flow State”? And Can It Really Boost Your Health and Happiness?.
Other Ways to Enhance Neuroplasticity and Tap Into Flow State
While redefining who you are tapping into the power of flow state are hands down two of the most powerful ways to use your brains neuroplasticity to enhance healing, it’s immensely important to continue pushing and growing your brain throughout life. Some other powerfully effective ways you can keep your brain happy, healthy, and consistently “rewiring” itself include:
- Commit to reading every day
- Drive a different route to work
- Do something you’ve always done in a brand new way
- Challenge yourself to word puzzles every morning
- Travel and explore unfamiliar places and diverse cultures
- Learn a new skill, try a new sport, color or draw – just find new ways to tap into your creativity
- Teach yourself a new language or new musical instrument
This ability to rewire our brains isn’t just good for your health, but it makes life fun, invigorating, and full of adventure.
Are You Ready to Tap Into the Healing Power of Neuroplasticity?
Our brain's remarkable ability to change and adapt is truly one of the most powerful tools we have when it comes to our health, happiness, performance, and more. If you’re grappling with any obstacle in your life – whether it’s your health, a challenging relationship, or life has thrown you a curveball – I cannot overemphasize the importance of deliberately working on your mindset to help you heal and overcome. And I don’t simply say that as a Functional Medicine Doctor – I say that as a fellow human that has experienced the power of mindset work firsthand.
One of the most pivotal pieces of the puzzle in my journey has been the ability to rewire my brain and transform my identity. My ability to intentionally mold how I approach my life has allowed me to heal from what felt like countless diagnosis (ranging from cancer to Crohn’s to autoimmunity), find joy after devastating heartbreak (including divorce and loss), and let go of toxic habits (like 100+ hour work weeks, suppressing my emotions, and constantly putting myself last). These changes have allowed me to create a life I love – one that’s full of vibrant health, true happiness, deep connections, and a sense of purpose greater than I thought possible.
So if you’re in a dark or challenging place right now, I want you to know that the same transformation is 100% possible for you too. I’m certainly not more special or more capable than you – I’ve just been lucky enough to discover tools and strategies (like neuroplasticity) that have helped me create these miraculous results in my life. And one of my most meaningful purposes in life is sharing everything I’ve learned along the way with you.
That’s why I’ve poured my heart and soul into my book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith. I wrote this book with the hopes of offering both a practical roadmap for health and healing as well as a source of connection and inspiration to encourage you to continue striving for the health, happiness, and life you dream of. My hope is that this book helps you create an extraordinary life full of love, resilience, and adventure. Click here to order a copy for yourself (and maybe another for someone in your life who could use a little boost right now).
- Neuroplasticity – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Frontiers | Dynamic Brains and the Changing Rules of Neuroplasticity: Implications for Learning and Recovery (frontiersin.org)
- Neuroplasticity | Different Types, Facts, & Research | Britannica
- Neuroplasticity | Psychology Today
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.