29 Apr Norman Doidge and The Power of Neuroplasticity
In 2000, Eric Kandel won the Nobel prize for medicine for demonstrating that as learning occurs the connections among nerve cells increase. It is hard to believe that was just fifteen years ago!
The science of neuroplasticity is integral to Advance Performance courses which are based on behavioural change. As research on neuroplasticity progresses, we are understanding the potential of the brain to fire and wire new connections through learning, to strengthen dendrites in building new habits and behaviours, and ultimately its capabilities to develop new connections to repair and heal itself.
Norman Doidge’s first book entitled The Brain That Changes Itself explores the potential of the brain as scientists have proved it is not hardwired but malleable. The author is a distinguished scientist, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist on the faculty of both the University of Toronto and of Columbia University in New York. His fascination with the power of neuroplasticity has led him across five continents to meet the researchers, medical professionals and extraordinary people who have overcome illness, disability, learning disorders and brain injuries through focused concentrated thought.
In 2007, Doidge traced the history of neuroscience showing how the science of neuroplasticity was just being accepted by general science. Even in his new book The Brain’s Way of Healing, some of the techniques seem far ahead of their time. Here he focuses on people who have utilised neuroplasticity to manage pain, overcome debilitating illnesses and recover from brain injuries.
Michael Moskowitz, an American doctor now specialising in pain management, discovered how chronic pain is mapped in the brain, spreading around from the central point where the real pain registered. He methodically taught his brain to block out pain using visualisation techniques to force away the chronic pain of those enlarged brain circuits.
John Pepper, from South Africa, developed Parkinson’s Disease in the 1960s. Now in his late seventies, this fit man fast walks and treks three times a week showing little sign of the disease. John has not cured his illness, but learned to overcome its debilitating features by changing his behaviour. Enrolling on a walking programme he consciously focused on developing a faster new walking style which built up distance, time and speed. As he concentrates on the movement of his limbs and posture, he overcomes the gait, tremors and balance issues.
Visualisation, behavioural change, concentrating your thoughts, attitude – this all is very familiar on Advance courses and here Doidge demonstrates the science in real lives! There are many research projects now supporting the earlier ideas of neuroplasticity and developing on the initial science. Dementia research now supports the importance of conscious behavioural change in exercise and lifelong learning building new brain connections which can prevent the onset of the disease. Focused thought to develop new behaviours enables many children with autism to overcome obsessions, repeated behaviours and sensitivities. Ex-servicemen and women can learn to walk again with artificial limbs as they build the dendrites to focus on the new limb which is not physically connected to the brain, but can build that connection in their brain maps.
Interestingly, the central link between each story of a person’s discovery and overcoming adversity is their commitment and focus on their goal. These determined individuals conceived the goal, believed in that goal and worked tirelessly to achieve that goal.
If you are interested in how to improve your brainpower to develop your dendrites, take a look at this excellent article by Norman Doidge which gives you five proven ways including exercise, learning and brain exercises.