New ideas, no matter how brilliant, can take a long time to become familiar in a culture, so as to become generally accepted as ‘normal’. Neuroplasticity, for example, has been around for millennia, but our awareness of it has happened, relatively speaking, in the blink of an eye. If that blink hasn’t yet reached your neck of the woods, the term refers to your ability to change the structure and function of your brain, through the power of attention. These changes are visible, with the use of a scan, and lasting.
Some of the earliest evidence came from as recently as 2000, with the study of London taxi drivers who were seen to have developed larger hippocampi, the areas of the brain that deal with navigation. The more years the drivers had worked in the city, the larger the volume of their hippocampi. The researchers were understandably inspired by this discovery, and the best-known book about neuroplasticity, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, MD, was published in 2007.
This was, however, by no means a self-help book, and it was never suggested that you could orchestrate such a change by yourself. It was as if neuroplasticity happened as a side effect. After all, the London taxi drivers didn’t start out with the intention of enlarging their hippocampi; all they wanted to do was earn a living. (1)
It was Jeffrey M Schwartz, MD, who introduced the concept of self-directed plasticity; the idea that you can take charge of this process, and get your brain to change in specific and useful ways. His self-help version, You Are Not Your Brain, explained changing neural pathways involved in obsessive-compulsive disorders, and was published in 2011, complete with ‘before’ and ‘after’ brain scans.
There are other books, but all fairly recent, so that this changeability of our brains is still not regarded by most people as a part of their daily lives. And yet it is part of their daily lives. This is what our brains do – they alter their neural pathways. This happens, it happens all the time, and it happens for better or for worse.