If any of you out there have ever heard of the concept of ‘neuroplasticity,’ or the brain’s ability to rewire itself based on how it’s used, then you understand this phrase perfectly. For the rest of you, we’ll explain!
In our brains are numerous neuronal pathways, a different one for each and every little thing we do. The pathways that get activated the most become the strongest (and easiest to activate). On the flip side, all of the neuronal pathways that do not get used very often become weak and harder to activate. Which is why “practice makes perfect,” right?
Well, now scientists have discovered that there’s another part of this process that is just as important: the ability to unlearn or deconstruct old neural links, known as “synaptic pruning.”
How it works
Picture a garden in which you’re growing the synaptic connections between neurons instead of the traditional flowers, fruits or vegetables. These synaptic connections are the bridges that neurotransmitters like dopamine and seratonin and the like use to travel through the brain.
The people tending this garden are “glial cells,” and not only do they help grow certain pathways, but some of them also act as waste disposal, ridding the garden of any weeds, pests or dead plants. The waste disposing “microglial cells” are the ones that refine our synaptic connections, strengthening ones we use often, and cleaning out the ones we don’t.
Researchers are only just beginning to understand how the brain does this, but they’ve discovered that when synaptic links are used less, they become marked by a C1q protein. Microglial cells find marked synaptic connections and bond to the protein, destroying the pathway in the process.
Why sleep is so great for our brains
Feeling like your brain is “full” is totally normal, because it can be full from time to time. Learning new skills or talents takes up physical space in the brain. The brain naturally cleans up the garden each night when we go to sleep. About 60 percent of brain cells shrink up when we sleep, allowing our gardeners to get rid of the stuff we don’t need.
You create your own mind
Once you understand that you can literally force your brain to exist in a certain way, you start to realize that much of the world you see before you is simply the result of how you wish to see it. If you spend most of your time playing video games instead of doing your job, guess which one you’re going to be better at? We might not be able to control every little thing that happens to us, but we can control how it affects us and how we build neural pathways around it.
So, try it for yourself. Try forming positive thought patterns by focusing on the good things about your life and who you are, rather than all of the bad. Use your understanding of your mind to better yourself.