07/03/2013 Mind-Body Health
We are living in a golden age of brain research. New breakthroughs emerge every month, revealing the astonishing power of the brain to heal, create, and evolve. Where scientists once believed that the brain’s hardwiring couldn’t be changed, we now know that the brain is constantly evolving, and our ability to rewire our brains remains intact from birth to the end of life. Researchers have also dispelled the myth that aging in the brain and memory loss are inevitable and irreversible. No matter how old we are, our brain is incredibly resilient and has the capacity to create new neural pathways if we choose to keep learning and opening ourselves to new experiences.
Is This a Golden Age for Your Brain?
In our book, Super Brain, we make a distinction between what we call the “baseline brain” and the super brain. The baseline brain is the everyday brain that runs unconsciously in the background to keep you alive and healthy. That’s not a minor role; the baseline brain is a marvel of complexity and efficiency. But too much of it is devoted to habits, old conditioning, and unconscious reflexes. We believe that the brain is designed to deliver much more. Through practices of self-awareness and conscious choice making, you can transform your baseline brain into a super brain.
The way that you relate to your brain is up to you. You can relate to it passively, following old habits and conditioning. You can even choose to let your brain operate on automatic pilot. The central nervous system has dual controls: one part takes care of the body’s autonomic processes, including respiration, digestion, and heart rate (among thousands of other functions). The other part takes care of the decisions and choices you make voluntarily, down to something as small as moving your eyes across these words.
The two sides of the nervous system are only separate in medical textbooks. In reality, how you relate to your brain affects every cell in your body. Your thoughts and feelings are part of numerous feedback loops that influence every tissue and organ. When you are happy, every cell becomes aware of your mood; when you are depressed, the chemical messages that correspond to your depressed mood travel everywhere in your body.
In short, there is no choice but to relate to your brain every minute, and the way you relate to it – through thoughts, emotions, and actions – shapes the brain. You are not your brain. You are the user of your brain. Your brain looks to you for instructions, guidance, and inspiration.