🔢 Key Takeaways
- Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change itself in response to experiences, allowing us to learn, adapt, and improve our abilities. It can also be accessed through tools and biological principles.
- Our nervous system contains circuits that cannot change, but specific processes can still promote change in adulthood. Adding new neurons is limited after puberty, but evidence shows it's possible in rodents and non-human primates.
- Even though we cannot add new neurons after adolescence, we can strengthen connections between them and potentially compensate for lost senses or functions. Our brains are always capable of change and adaptation.
- The brain's ability to adapt decreases with age, but early brain injuries have a higher potential for recovery. Triggering neuroplasticity and recognizing the need for change is crucial for the brain's ability to adapt.
- Our brain's ability to change, known as neuroplasticity, relies on specific neurochemicals released when there is a selective shift in attention or experience. To change our nervous system in adulthood, we must give up old connections and make new ones.
- Awareness is the first step towards change. The adult brain is capable of changing under certain conditions. Paying attention is important to bring about change.
- By focusing on specific experiences, our brains release chemicals that allow for neural plasticity, providing the opportunity for learning and change throughout our lives.
- By mastering sleep schedules and intentionally activating alertness, such as through psychological accountability, setting goals, or using pharmacological interventions, individuals can take control of their brain's ability to change and adapt.
- Identifying multiple reasons for pursuing a goal and learning to maintain a deep focus can help boost motivation and productivity. Supplements like nicotine, alpha GPC or Coleen can also improve attention and focus.
- Instead of relying on supplements or drugs to enhance mental focus and alertness, try utilizing visual focus techniques such as precision gaze to improve depth and duration of focus.
- Focusing our eyes on a specific visual task triggers the release of specific neurotransmitters that increase our level of focus. Practicing visual focus at the precise distance of the task can improve our ability to concentrate.
- Practice visual focus by holding your gaze on a visual image, blink less, and focus on a smaller region of space. Closing your eyes can help create a cone of auditory attention. Focusing on the thing you're trying to learn is crucial.
- Practice staring without blinking to activate brainstem mechanisms. Avoid constant distraction of technology and engage in active learning for 90-minute periods with warm-up to improve focus and attention.
- Eliminate distractions, maintain visual contact with the task at hand, prioritize sleep and non-sleep deep rest to reinforce learning, and engage in motor activities to recover from intense learning and reduce stress.
- By being alert and engaged during the learning process, we can modify our brain's reflexive behaviors and increase focus. Prioritizing meaningful activities during peak alertness can benefit neuroplasticity.
- To improve your ability to learn, engage in focused learning followed by rest and consider combining behavioral protocols with pharmacology. Don't focus for too long without breaks as disengagement can actually improve plasticity. Incorporate repetition and rewards to enhance performance.
📝 Podcast Notes
Understand the Science of Neuroplasticity to Improve your Brain and Nervous System
Neuroplasticity is the brain and nervous system's ability to change itself in response to experiences. This allows us to learn or forget things, adapt to new situations, and improve our abilities. It is a natural process that occurs from birth until around the age of 25, where the brain removes connections that do not serve our goals. However, significant positive or negative events can also dramatically change our nervous system through one trial learning unless we attempt to undo that experience. Every person's nervous system is unique due to their experiences, thoughts, and social interactions. Neuroplasticity can be accessed through tools and biological principles, which will be discussed in this podcast.
The Limits of Neuroplasticity in Adulthood
While many aspects of our nervous system are plastic and can change easily during childhood and adolescence, there are certain circuits that cannot change, such as those controlling heartbeat, breathing, and digestion. These circuits are vital for reliability and do not require conscious effort. After the age of 25, changes in the nervous system become much harder to achieve and require specific processes. While there is evidence that new neurons can be added to certain regions in rodents and non-human primates, in humans, the evidence is more controversial, and after puberty, the addition of new neurons is very limited.
Our Brains Remain Changeable Throughout Our Lives
While we cannot add many new neurons to our brains after adolescence, we can still change our nervous system through creating the right environmental and chemical circumstances. Our brains remain available for change, and we can create new memory, new abilities, and cognitive functions through making certain connections (synapses) between neurons stronger and removing connections that are no longer useful. When we lose certain functions in the brain due to aging, neural circuits can compensate in other ways. Through deficits and impairments in our sensory apparatus, we can also gain plasticity at any stage and potentially strengthen other senses such as touch in blind individuals.
The Brain's Customizability and Recovery Potential
The brain is highly customizable and can adapt to changes in experiences, but this ability decreases as we age. However, the Kennard principle suggests that it's better to have brain injuries early in life as the brain has a higher potential for recovery. Neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to change and adapt, can also be triggered by recognizing a desire to change something, whether it's a cognitive, motor or emotional skill. Being deliberate about identifying what needs to be changed is crucial in triggering neuroplasticity. This self-recognition mechanism can be the hardest step, but it's a crucial component of neuroplasticity.
How Neuroplasticity Shapes the Brain
Neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to change, depends on the release of specific neurochemicals that allow for the strengthening or weakening of connections between neurons. This process occurs when there is a selective shift in attention or experience that signals the brain to change. Contrary to popular belief, every experience does not change the brain unless it involves this specific process. Neuroplasticity was first studied in the visual cortex by David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, who found that there is a critical period in which the brain can completely rewire itself if clear vision does not occur. To change our nervous system in adulthood, we need to think about what we need to give up in order to add new connections.
The potential for brain plasticity in adults.
In order to change something, it is important to bring attention to it. This is linked to the idea that awareness is the first step towards change. While David and Torsten won a Nobel Prize for their work on uncovering the mechanisms of brain change and vision, their idea of a critical period for brain plasticity was proven wrong by experiments done in the early nineties. These experiments showed that the adult brain is capable of changing provided certain conditions are met. This highlights the potential for brain plasticity in adults and the importance of paying attention in order to bring about change.
The Power of Paying Attention: How We Can Change Our Brains
When we pay careful attention to a particular experience, the neurochemicals epinephrine and acetylcholine are released in our brain, providing the opportunity for neural plasticity, or brain change. Epinephrine increases alertness, waking up the entire brain and increasing the likelihood that neurons will be active. Acetylcholine, on the other hand, is released when we pay attention to a specific sensory input and amplifies that signal in the brain. This means that we can change our brains at any point throughout our lifespan by paying careful attention to what we want to learn or change, whether it be a new skill, language, or emotion.
Accessing the Brain's Capacity for Change and Growth Through Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to change and adapt, can be accessed through three key components: epinephrine for alertness, acetylcholine from brainstem and basal forebrain sources, and a SITA Coleen released from the forebrain's nucleus basalis. When these components are activated, the brain undergoes rapid and massive learning in response to a specific stimulus. To access neuroplasticity, it's important to focus on mastering sleep schedules, as well as finding ways to intentionally activate alertness, such as through psychological accountability, setting goals, or using pharmacological interventions. Understanding these principles can help individuals take control of their brain's capacity for change and growth.
Identifying Motivational Triggers and Boosting Attention
Motivation is a tricky thing, and it is essential to identify reasons to create an alert and activated state to accomplish tasks. The brain does not distinguish between doing things out of love, anger, or fear as all promote autonomic arousal and the release of epinephrin. It is crucial to come up with at least two or three reasons to feel drawn towards a particular goal, such as being excited about a goal and being motivated not to be afraid or humiliated for not following through. Attention is also crucial, and we are responsible for learning how to create a depth of focus, and there are supplements and things that can increase attention and focus, such as nicotine or Nicorette, alpha GPC, or Coleen.
The Importance of Acetylcholine and Visual Focus for Mental Acuity and Sports Performance
The neurotransmitter acetylcholine controls nerve to muscle contraction and impacts speed of reflexes, making it important for sports and mental acuity. However, consuming supplements to increase acetylcholine is not recommended. Instead, mental focus can be enhanced by utilizing visual focus, as mental focus follows visual focus. Caffeine can increase alertness, but Adderall, although increasing alertness, does not improve focus and has a high probability for abuse. Therefore, relying on behavioral practices anchored in visual focus, such as looking at a small region of space with high precision, can allow for great depth and duration of focus.
Improving Cognitive Focus Through Visual Focus
The density of pixels in the central area of our visual field is much higher than in the periphery. When we focus our eyes, our brain is seeing a small cone of visual imagery with higher resolution and acuity. Visual focus in the brain is anchored to our visual system, meaning the key to higher levels of cognitive or mental focus is to learn how to focus better visually. Lowering our head and moving our eyes slightly inward triggers the release of acetylcholine and epinephrine, which increases our level of visual focus. Practicing focusing our visual system at the precise distance of the task we intend to do can improve our ability to concentrate.
How to Improve Your Ability to Focus
To improve your ability to focus, practice visual focus by holding your gaze to a visual image. Blinking less and focusing your visual attention on a smaller region of space can help maintain a cone or tunnel of mental focus, increasing your levels of attention. Closing your eyes is one of the best ways to create a cone of auditory attention. For most people, vision is the primary way to train up this focus, building cones of attention. So you absolutely have to focus on the thing that you're trying to learn, and you will feel some agitation because of the epinephrine in your system.
How to Improve Focus and Attention Using Brain Mechanisms
In order to improve focus and engage the mechanisms of plasticity in the brain, one can practice staring for long periods of time without blinking. This may activate brainstem mechanisms such as the nucleus basalis. However, many people struggle with attention deficit or have given themselves a low grade version of it due to the constant distraction of technology, such as phones with their small, motion-filled screens. While it may be tempting to consume passive content, it is important to devote time and attention to challenging materials, such as reading or listening to podcasts. Consistently engaging in active learning for 90-minute periods with a warm-up period can improve focus and attention.
Strategies for Maintaining Focus and Enhancing Learning
To maintain focus for an extended period, eliminate distractions such as turning off Wi-Fi and putting your phone in another room or even locking it away. When attention drifts, re-anchor your focus by maintaining visual contact with the task at hand, which can greatly increase your powers of focus and rate of learning. Neuroplasticity, the process of strengthening neural circuits, occurs during sleep, so mastering sleep is key to reinforce learning. Engaging in non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) or brief naps of 90 minutes or less can also accelerate learning. Motor activities such as walking or running can help recover from intense, focused learning while shutting down stress-inducing brain areas.
Enhancing Neuroplasticity through Conscious Effort and Attention.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change and adapt throughout one's lifetime, and it can be enhanced through deliberate and focused effort. It is important to be alert during the learning process, as epinephrine released from the brain during wakefulness can aid in plasticity. Attention is critical in creating reflexive behaviors that modify the brain, allowing us to pay less attention to certain tasks going forward. Learning how to engage the visual and auditory systems can improve focus and increase the benefits of neuroplasticity. It is also important to be mindful of when we are most alert, and to prioritize meaningful activities during those times.
How to Enhance Your Ability to Learn and Continue to Improve Throughout Life
The key takeaway from this section is that everyone has the ability to improve their ability to learn through certain practices, such as anchoring in mechanisms and engaging in 90-minute bouts of focused learning followed by rest, preferably deep sleep. Additionally, there are behavioral protocols that can be combined with pharmacology to enhance learning, and it is important to not focus too much for too long, as breaks and disengagement can actually increase the rate of plasticity. There are also other types of plasticity that involve repetition and incorporating rewards, which are important for developing habits and enhancing physical and cognitive performance. Ultimately, it is possible to access plasticity and continue learning throughout life.