Neuroplasticity: The lessons we should learn about change and one man’s incredible story
Today I watched a remarkable video about determination and overcoming obstacles. I have worked with the principles of neuropsychology for 20 years and have a profound belief in the capacity of the brain to change, but this story spoke to me. It showed a man who, despite what many would consider to be an unchangeable disability, set out to overcome it anyway.
The man is Australian Andy Short. Andy has Cerebral Palsy. Together, with his physical trainer Lee Campbell, Andy has made incredible advances in his skills and abilities. He has achieved physical challenges that would have been seen as impossible not long ago. He has created change in the physical structures of his brain that have enabled him to fine tune his motor skills and physical capabilities. This in turn enables him to lead a more independent life. The changes are truly astonishing.
How is this relevant to the leaders and executives with whom I work?
To explain, a little history on neuroplasticity is needed. Until recently it was thought that our brain developed throughout our childhood. That the abilities that were laid down in the neural structures of the brain during that time were hard-wired for life. That as we aged our brains degenerated to some degree, explaining the loss of cognitive abilities, such as memory as we aged. That personality traits were fixed.
Now with new technologies such as MRI the idea that the brain is malleable throughout our lives has been confirmed. In similar ways to which our skin cells constantly regenerate in just 28 days, and we build ourselves entirely new livers in just 6 weeks, our brain cells die out through disuse and new ones are created. The more we learn, the more we grow our brains. Learning something new generates new neural networks. The more we practice those skills the stronger those neural pathways become and the more automatic or ingrained a habitual response is. Conversely if we never use algebra again once we leave school the neural networks with that knowledge and abilities begin to fade.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of your brain to reorganize itself, physically and functionally, throughout your life.
That colleague you despair of because he has a difficult personality? That you think can’t change? Not true.
Your struggles to communicate effectively, your introversion hindering your career, which you have assumed is just how you are. That’s not true, either.
Change is always possible!
It requires dedication and motivation to make the change. Often the biggest stumbling block for people is that they have assumed change is not possible. So they don’t try. And surprise! If you don’t try, then nothing is going to change.
If you hold the belief that change is possible, and not only possible but within reach at the level of structural change within your brain, that belief gives you the power to make those changes. With that power of belief the motivation and dedication to comes more easily.
Click here to watch Andy’s video.
It demonstrates the determination that he put into his changes. The knowledge and understanding of the principles of neuroplasticity appears to have created much of this determination.
It is true to say that this is a major change and that for most of us the changes may seem smaller and less significant. Whether it is developing leadership skills, overcoming old habits that no longer serve you well or developing the capacity for empathy that is the hallmark of a great leader. In all of these, like for Andy, the physical structure of your brain is being changed. That will require perseverance, not stopping when it feels like you have learned something new, but repeating it over and over until it becomes ingrained into your brain and is now your natural response or way of being.
So believe you can change. Inspire others to change. But start developing that amazing and creative brain you have in your head. Because its capacity is enormous and with it you can achieve more than you ever imagined!
Connect with Dr. Price on developing your brain for leadership and success!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Kate Price is an Executive Coach and Business Consultant with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has 20 years’ experience working with individuals, groups and organizations enabling them to overcome difficulties and develop skills in life and leadership.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on December 8, 2016.