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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Neuroplasticity: The Good, Bad and How it Affects You

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 9th 2010

I just came from a wonderful conference in UCLA where psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science discussed the nature of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is simply the new-ish finding that our brain continues to grow connections throughout the lifespan. This has been very encouraging and provided people with a lot of hope because of the fact now that we can actually alter our brains for the better. And as with anything that becomes a trend or popular we can sometimes miss the whole picture. So what are we missing?

Norman reminded us that neuroplasticity isn't inherently a good thing. The brain can grow new connections, but also in ways that hinder us. For example, if someone is exposed to a trauma that leaves them with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), no doubt there have been new neural connections that have been created that are now created a major stress reaction. Or if someone continually paves the path of automatic negative interpretations in life, those neural connections continue to get strengthened and become more difficult to unwind or reshape.

When I heard him talk about this piece I sighed and a feeling of relief came over me. Why? Because we can really be more effective in life when the lenses we're looking through are clear and we can see the entire picture, not just part of the picture.

So here we are. We have this exciting news and research showing that we can actually change the neural pathways in our brains based on the actions we take in life. Millions and millions of evolution of the brain have given us this awe inspiring organ that has more connections than we can comprehend.

This brain is so powerful and we are starting to understand that we can use our minds to shape our brains to help our minds. We can also use our minds to shape our brains to hinder our mind. Did you get that? Read it over again a few times, it will begin to become clear.

In other words, what and how we pay attention in this world has a tremendous effect on the growth of our brains. The way our brain is lends itself to an auto-pilot effect that can lead us to automatically be a certain way in this world. It takes an intentional practice of awareness in life to understand that there is a space between the moment we are triggered and our reaction.

In that space lies choice, in that space lies to moment where we can break from auto-pilot and begin using our minds to shape our brains to help our minds.

I hope this post wasn't too much of a brain twister. Feel free to read it over again and again and see what it means to your own life.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Thank you!!! - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Mar 10th 2010

Thank you for doing such wonderful work Martin, it looks very interesting! 

Mindfulness and Brain Training - Martin Walker - Mar 10th 2010

Hello, Dr. Goldstein.

The way that the science of the brain and the practice of mindfulness have begun to merge is fascinating and exciting.

With new techniques to quantify and measure the impact of mindful exercises on brain function, such exercise and therapy can and will I'm sure establish a more prominent role in our lives. And rightly so!

My company publishes brain training software that requires intensive mindfulness and in turn strengthens our ability to be mindful in other parts of our life. This kind of serious brain training is quickly taking a place in the repertoire of practitioners who seek to help people build mindfulness, break habits, boost self esteem, increase general attention and productivity, and address dysfunctions related to attention and working memory.

Best wishes,
Martin Walker

Neuroplasticity - feldypt - Mar 10th 2010

Thank you for this posting, and many of my Feldenkrais colleagues attended the UCLA workshop, I was sorry to miss this. 

I wondered if you were familiar with the Feldenkrais Method? I was fortunate to be one of the organizers for the Feldenkrais and Neuroplasticity Expo at Cedar Sinaii Hospital

Since you are in LA, please drop on by for a class sometime if you are interested.

Actions change neural pathways - Rajesh yedida - Mar 10th 2010

It's very interesting to see that we can change the neural path ways by the actions we take in our life. But who controls our actions??? This is a bit confusing.

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