Tag Archives: neuroplasticity

Deepak Chopra: 5 Steps to Take Charge of Your Wellness (Part 2)

Scale-Apple-Measuring-Tape-DietContinued from Part 1, here are the final 3 steps to take charge of your wellness:

Step 3: Identify Harmful Patterns

To change your negative habits, you have to know what they are. Some bad habits, like smoking and excessive drinking, are obvious, but others may be less so. Sitting all day is damaging to your health, even if you get half an hour of exercise or more before or after work. Depriving yourself of eight hours’ sleep for even a short period is also hard on the body in ways that sleep researchers are just beginning to fully recognize.

Forming a new habit takes repetition and focus, and if your attention is elsewhere you may have a harder time adjusting to new behaviors. For that reason, some experts advise against planning big changes if you are going through a particularly stressful period. I think that reasoning is wrong. Although it’s true that you are likely to have more setbacks at such times, it’s just as true that people change as a result of meeting challenges and crises: “Aha” moments occur quite often when somebody hits bottom.

Visualizing your desired outcome is a useful tool in your journey. “Seeing” yourself as you wish to be has helped smokers quit, obese people lose weight, and sports champions achieve their goals. In order to change the printout of the body, you must learn to rewrite the software of the mind. This truism is reinforced by brain scans that show a decrease in certain higher functions (making good decisions, following reason over impulse, resisting temptation) when a person falls into a pattern of giving in to a wide range of lower impulses, such as fear, anger, or simply physical hunger. You need to implement a healing regimen that encourages and rewards your good choices if you want brain pathways to follow suit.

Step 4: Make Steady Changes

Even though you are working on the big picture, for psychological reasons a series of small victories is desirable. In essence, you are training your brain to succeed. Most of us, having been defeated by old conditioning, take the course of least resistance, not realizing that we are training our brains into pathways that rob us of free will over time.

So begin with a victory you can define and which means something to you. Skip red meat for a week. Take the stairs, not the elevator. If you’re very out of shape, walk 10 minutes every day and gradually build up your time. Put down your fork halfway through your meal, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself if you’re still hungry. If you work at a desk, make it a rule to always stand or pace when you’re on the phone. Over time, what seem like baby steps produce new physiological changes in every cell of the body. Trillions of cells are eavesdropping on your every thought and action. Instead of pretending that your body doesn’t know what you’re doing, make yourself the gift of delivering good news to your cells.

In my view, the most important victories occur in awareness, however. If you tend to procrastinate, be aware of the reasons you do it. We get comfortable in our warm, fuzzy old routines, and making changes, even small ones, feels threatening psychologically, as if even a positive change is a risk. Predict when you will procrastinate and invent a strategy to outmaneuver your future self. For example, if you know you’ll be tempted to hit the snooze button instead of getting up for an early morning jog, put your exercise clothes across the room from your bed—with your alarm clock on top.

Step 5: Reinforce Good Decisions

Sometimes brain research underlines the obvious, but it is a breakthrough to observe MRI scans and see for yourself that good decisions “light up the brain” in ways that are different from bad decisions. In the larger scheme, when you undertake a wellness program, you will be faced every day with the choice to stay the course or abandon your mission. How does your brain make choices, then?

Executive control, which means choosing a thought or action to meet an internal goal, is managed by the brain’s prefrontal cortex. The orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala play roles in regulating decision-making based on the memory of feelings. Regions of the midbrain in which the neurotransmitter dopamine is predominant also influence decision-making. Some of the choices that trigger dopamine’s release: eating sweet foods, taking drugs, having sex.

We may overindulge in chocolate cake because we tend to value the short-term outcome we know (deliciousness) over the long-term outcome we have never experienced (weight loss and increased energy from better nutrition). One way to break that cycle is to reward ourselves in a different way. Instead of eating cake, we can go play a game or listen to music.

How long does it take to form a new habit? An average of 66 days, according to a 2009 study from University College, London. Repetition and giving yourself time to adjust are the main factors in forming a new behavior pattern.

For more information go to: www.deepakchopra.com

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Originally published February 2012

Deepak Chopra: 5 Steps to Take Charge of Your Wellness

love

A basic outline for prevention has existed for more than thirty years, but wellness has had a hard time making real headway. Old habits are hard to break. Our society has a magic bullet fixation, waiting for the next miracle drug to cure us of every ill. Doctors receive no economic benefit from pushing prevention over drugs and surgery. For all these reasons, compliance with prevention falls far below what is needed for maximum wellness.

Rather than feeling gloomy, my focus has been on getting the individual to take charge of their own wellness. This can be a considerable challenge, since we are each unique in our bodies but also unique in our pattern of bad habits and poor lifestyle choices. More than 40% of American adults make a resolution to live a better life each year, and fewer than half keep their promise to themselves for longer than 6 months. Conditioning is hard to break, but the key is that the power to break a habit belongs to the same person who made it – the turnaround amounts to giving up unconscious behavior and adopting conscious new patterns.

Once your mind begins to pay attention, your brain can build new neural pathways to reinforce what you learn. Much is made of the brain’s ability to change and adapt – the general term is neuroplasticity – but I think science has been slow to catch up with wise experience. It has always been true that applying awareness in any form, through such things as resolve, discipline, good intentions, and mindfulness, has the power to create change. The practical dilemma is how to use your strengths and motivation to help yourself remain committed to wellness as a lifetime pattern.

Step 1: Set Goals by Baselining Your Health

The first step in taking control of your well-being is to set goals, and a sensible way to do this is to “baseline” your health. Gather some basic facts that realistically inform you about your body: weight, height, family history, exercise habits, general diet, and a self-assessment of your stress levels at work and in your home life.

Some experts would add medical measures that only a doctor can fully determine, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and other lipids levels, and bone density. My difficulty with these tests is that they encourage worry. Being in an anxious state is a bad motivator for most people. It can motivate you for as long as you remember to be afraid, but after that, people tend to give in to impulses, make erratic choices, and increase their own stress levels. With that in mind, I go against the grain of standard medical advice, at least partially, by saying that heeding these medical markers should come second, after you have already set yourself on a good wellness program for at least six months. Give consciousness a chance before you undermine it with potential anxiety.

How do you actually set your goals? Start thinking about the big picture. Changing poor lifestyle habits is rarely easy, especially if they comfort you, as smoking or overeating do for many people. You need a strong vision of what you want to achieve in order to succeed. I’d say the strongest vision comes from knowing about a simple trend: the latest research shows that more and more disorders, including most cancers, are preventable through a good wellness program. The benefits are increasing with every new study.

Step 2: Set Priorities

Making lists of your hot spots and your sweet spots will help you to set your personal priorities. The hot spots are weaknesses, the sweet spots strengths that crop up during an ordinary day. You can’t attack every bad pattern all at once; it’s good to achieve a series of small victories at first.

Hot spots: List the times you feel unhappy or most agitated—fighting a futile battle to get a good night’s sleep, perhaps, or recriminating yourself for ordering dessert when you were already full. Identify with clear sights your biggest challenges, such as getting to bed on time, reducing food portions, resisting sweets, choosing the couch over the treadmill, and so on. Doing this will help your mission take shape and direction.

Sweet spots: List the things that give you joy and satisfaction, for instance, spending time with your family or enjoying a favorite hobby. Recapture in your mind what it feels like to resist ordering dessert or to spend half an hour walking outdoors. Appreciating the sweet spots in your life is a source of strength as you embark on your habit-changing mission.

Steps 3, 4, & 5 coming up in the next post!

 

Originally published February 2012

Deepak Chopra: The Mystery of Memory

How do we recall a memory and where does it disappear to once we’ve remembered it? Do we exist in our brains or are they tools of our consciousness? In this week’s episode of “The Rabbit Hole” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra explores the mysterious world of our memories and where they live in our brain.

So, do you remember what you had for dinner last night? How about the house you lived in as a child? Or the way you felt the first time you heard your favorite song? If these memories exist as waves of potential, there for us to recall at any moment, then our entire past, present, and future may be more simultaneously interwoven then we thought.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below!

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and check out Deepak Chopra’s recent book Super Brain for more on memory and the brain!

Deepak Chopra: The Secret of Creativity

How do you keep your creative spirit alive even as you progress further into adulthood? In this week’s episode of “The Rabbit Hole” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra explores the dynamics of a creative life and the relationship between age and creativity (we don’t have to lose our imagination as we grow older!).

Imagination and creativity are pinnacles of human experience. Children seem to know this innately, effortlessly, but adults are just as capable of playfulness and innovation. When was the last time you sat down with your paints, invented a game, or made up a new recipe? Whatever it is for you, take some time today to let your imagination run wild. And remember that every day, in every moment, it is within your power to practice creativity and let life be your canvass.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and check out Deepak Chopra’s book, Super Brain, for more on neuroplasticity and creativity.

The Power of Positive Affirmations (Part 1)

You Gotta Believe

When I was a child, anytime I felt nervous or insecure about anything, or I didn’t feel well, I wanted my mother to assure me that all would be okay. But that wasn’t enough. I insisted she end her sentences with: “I’m positive.” I didn’t realize at the time that I was basically asking for a positive affirmation, what I later learned was a powerful tool to enable us to basically turn our lives around.

Indeed, C. James Jensen, author of Beyond the Power of Your Subconscious Mind, says that using affirmations is one of the best things you can do to get more out of every aspect of your life, and in particular, your personal health. “Self-talk,” he says, “is the means by which the power of the subconscious mind can be directed and channeled towards any greater good. The subconscious is forever present, always available to carry out the ‘commands’ given to it by the conscious area of the mind. The subconscious does not question the value of our ‘commands,’ but just proceeds to fulfill such ‘instructions.’”

Jensen asks us to imagine an ocean liner crossing the sea with the captain of the ship barking out orders to the crew who may be located deep in the hold, below the water line and unable to see where the ship is going. “The captain is analogous to the conscious area to the mind,” he continues. “In this example, the crew is like the subconscious. So when the captain commands, for example ‘Full speed ahead, 15 degrees to the North’ the crew simply responds, ‘Aye Aye, Sir,’ and carries out its orders precisely.” The crew, you see, does not care if it runs the ship into the rocks, collides with another vessel, or gets the ship safely to its destination. It is totally non-judgmental and does not question “The Boss,” who in this case is the captain of the ship.

This is a powerful metaphor of the relationship between the conscious and subconscious areas of the mind, Jensen feels. And these are not two separate minds, but two spheres of the same mind. “If you seek to harness this power, you must consciously be aware of how you talk to yourself and specifically what you say to yourself. You may want to ‘cancel’ certain thoughts or statements often said in frustration and substitute the language consistent with the picture you want to create.”

He gives us an example: “I am so lazy. I keep forgetting to go to my exercise class. I’ll never get in shape!”

But is that really what we want to be commanding to our subconscious mind when our goal is to become more orderly and punctual? “Of course not!” he insists.

According to Jensen, if you find yourself making such a statement in anger or frustration, simply put your record button on “Pause.” Then take a couple of deep breaths and say “Cancel.” As you do this, visually see yourself erasing the negative statement you just made.

“Now take two more breaths,” he advises, “and with a smile in your heart say to yourself: ‘Every day and in every way I am getting better at being punctual and always on time for my exercise class. I feel good about the fact I am steadily improving my health and fitness.’”

You must choose to repeat this to yourself 2-3 times every day. You want to totally erase (or cancel) the negative beliefs and leave the subconscious with a clear positive visual picture of the “new you” who “feels good about the fact you are always on time.”

You may be understandably skeptical that by just saying certain words you can bring about significant positive changes in your behavior. But affirmations do work. “Realize that the greatest testimony to the effectiveness of affirmations comes from millions of people who have shared their real life experiences of the positive changes, healing, growth in relationships, family dynamics, sports performance and business success, to name a few, that all come from having  incorporated the daily practice of positive affirmations into their lives.”

Affirmations are most effective when you write them down and then prioritize them in order of their importance to you. It is also best to have no more than 15 goals at any one time. As you achieve each goal, one at a time, you can always add a new goal.

“It is crucial that you build balance into your goal-setting. Balancing business, family relationships and personal health is essential,” Jensen says. “And once you have your goals clearly defined, you want to create a mental picture of what the accomplishment of those goals would look like in your own life. Then you create the words to support the picture (goal) as though it were true today, i.e. ‘I look good and feel good at __pounds;’ or ‘I eat only enough to maintain my perfect weight of ___pounds;’ or ‘I enjoy the benefits of exercising every day and never miss a day.’”

Say these statements (your affirmations) out loud to yourself; and while you do, see the end result (the picture) in your mind as though it were true right now. It is not the words that record in your subconscious. It is the pictures your words create, along with the feelings or emotions associated with those pictures, that are implanted in your subconscious.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post, in which I outline six key affirmations for improving your life.

photo by: Meanest Indian

Deepak Chopra: Our Global Brain in the Age of Social Media

Our brains are designed to continue learning and growing throughout our lives, but it’s up to us to keep them stimulated. Now in the age of technology, though, we consume information more quickly and on a wider spectrum than ever before, and our brains catalog it all with the ease of, say, a computer. In this week’s episode of “The Rabbit Hole” on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra takes us into the inner working of the global brain, shaped by social networks and technology.

Every time you learn something new online or connect with another part of the world via Facebook or Twitter, your brain paves fresh neural pathways. It restructures itself according to the information you accumulate, the habits you form and break, and the skills you utilize most regularly. On another level, though, our collective consciousness – the “global brain”, as Deepak calls it – is also changing rapidly. Our global village coheres today in a way it probably never has before. Of course there have been other eras of vast trade and communication: the Silk Road, the introduction of the printing press, colonization, to name a few. But today we can experience practically every corner of the globe with the click of a button. We can weigh in on any issue under the sun by commenting on news and blog sites, joining forums, and posting to our own social media outlets. Our loved ones are only as far away as our phones and Skype accounts, and many of our relationships exist entirely online, anyways.

What does this mean for the future of our global village? We are witnessing the era of Wikileaks, the “Arab Spring“, and social media-driven presidential campaigns. We can at least expect media and technology to maintain a powerful role in global politics and culture, and they will likely continue growing exponentially in the years to come. Culture influences social media, but the opposite is also true (if not more so.) We may witness more and more of the latter: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and future platforms driving culture and social norms.

This may be a healthy evolution or a destructive one. If dictators and hate groups dominated media culture, we would be in grave danger of watching our global village fall down a path of decay. But hopefully this will not be the case. As Deepak urges, “The destiny of the whole planet depends on reaching beyond the narrow interests of rich nations and multinational corporations. A community of humanity needs to be formed.” Why not make the conscious decision to use social media as a tool for spreading love, wisdom, and positive transformation? The power is in our hands.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and check out Deepak Chopra’s book, Super Brain!

Three Myths to Dispel About the Brain

What if we could improve our memory, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and keep our brains young with just a few simple mindfulness techniques?

Deepak Chopra recently appeared on the Dr. Oz show discussing memory and the brain. With the recent release of his new book, Super Brain, co-authored by Harvard neuroscientist Rudy Tanzi, there has been a lot in the air about the connection between the mind, aging and brain health. Deepak and Rudy discuss some key themes from the book, including memory, love, and sleep, on The Chopra Well series, SUPER BRAIN.

As it turns out, we have more of a say in the strength and resilience of our brains than we may have thought. Here are three myths to dispel before we can harness the power of our “super brains.” If we can wrap our minds around these, then we are off to a great start.

Myth #1: Over the course of our lives, our brains continuously lose cells that will never be replaced.

Truth: We do lose brain cells as a natural course of wear and tear (about one per second), but these cells are replaced and can even increase in a process called “neurogenesis.” Several thousand new nerve cells come into being every day in the hippocampus, home of short-term memory. We can promote the birth of these new cells by choosing to learn new things, take risks, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes avoiding emotional stress and trauma, which have been shown to inhibit neurogenesis.

Myth #2: The brain is hardwired and cannot be changed.

Truth: Our brains are actually incredibly flexible, if we can just learn to nurture and foster their development. The term for this “re-wiring” is neuroplasticity and is dependent on our own will to try new things, tackle new goals and experience change. The brain’s circuitry can be reshaped by our thoughts, desires, and experiences. This property has been vividly illustrated by dramatic recoveries after injuries, but it also comes to bear every time you take a new route to work or learn a new skill.

Myth #3: Memory loss with age is irreversible.

Truth: It is possible to prevent and even reverse memory loss! Ever misplaced your keys and blamed it on old age? The fact is, you have to learn something in the first place before you can forget it. So it may be that you just never learned where you placed your keys. Practice mindfulness as the first step toward building a resilient memory. Also, memories associated with feelings are much stronger than memories based in simple, hard fact. We must take an interest in everything going on around us, stay alert, and resist feeling hopeless or apathetic about the aging process. Our brains are capable of miracles, regardless of age.

For more, watch Deepak Chopra on Dr. Oz, and grab a copy of Super Brain so you can start strengthening your brain right now!

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3 Powerful Ways to Access Mind Control

spiraling out of controlPerhaps you have heard the buzz word, neuroplasticity. If you haven’t, you might be unaware of the scientific magic of increasing your willpower, motivation, happiness and health. Neuroplasticity is the revolutionary science behind creating new brain cells and rewiring brain circuitry to accommodate great change – the kind of change you have always dreamed about, but quickly lost your will power to activate a couple of weeks after New Year’s.

You can virtually mold your brain. Butterflies experience one metamorphosis in their lifetime, while humans can experience many. Just make up your mind!

A growing number of neuroscientists and psychiatrists have been researching and fine-tuning neuroplasticity to successfully treat their patients. Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard psychiatrist, is an avid advocate of “exercise” your mind. Physical exercise releases BDNF – “miracle grow” for the brain. Working out creates new neurons in the brain and enhances those firing synapses; apparently, you can teach an old dog new tricks. And who among us has not felt clearer, sharper and less anxious after a good cardio burn?

Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz,a prominent researcher of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and neuroplasticity at UCLA, author of You are Not Your Brain, clarifies the role of directed attention to counteract deceptive brain messages. Rewire the brain by reframing upsetting emotions with positive interpretations.  Practice makes you more perfect.

Essentially, neuroplasticity gives you “mind” control over what your brain sees, hears and craves. You can virtually become more beautiful, empowered and younger – yes younger, because your brain is growing new brain cells and becoming less fixed and rigid. Little daily practices can change your brain to enjoy life, make peace with your emotions and insulate yourself against the assault of stress.

Here is how to change your brain for the better:

  1. Exercise for a few power packed minutes daily. I have found that having a specific intention for an exercise session fortifies a new mindset: Think it and do it. For example, “Today I am strengthening my back to support me.” After exercising, I eat healthier because I’m proud of what my body does and want to give it the right kind of nourishing energy.
  2. Meditate for a few minutes every time you feel depleted, anxious, sad, or overwhelmed by technology. Closing your eyes and breathing more deeply brings oxygen to the brain and creates a more natural rhythm between heart and brain restoring the balance. In this relaxed state you can give your brain loving messages and new images to activate without judgment. Without fear of judgment you can implement new changes.  If a distracting or bothersome feeling comes along, don’t suppress it. Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz advises to acknowledge it with mindfulness, realizing that the discomfort will diminish and ultimately disappear. A new value will be wired into the brain.
  3. Cultivate a positivity bias. Happiness and health will be accessed in a brain which grows more positive. Dr. Albert Levy, a professor at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NY explains that his angry, frustrated and unhappy patients tend to get sicker and have more physical ailments, while more positive patients are healthier and taker fewer medications.  You can think yourself positive and then attract the positive into your life.

Creative Commons License photo credit: rhoftonphoto