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Wed., Oct. 31, 2012

I’ve decided to use this blog to share with you some of my weekly learnings from my

Positive Psychology course. I welcome conversation around any of this material and hope that you find it helpful.

The current “module” we’re in has to do with Change, and this week I’ve been reading about some of the latest findings in brain research, which have real implications for how change is possible.

Up until the past few years, it was thought that our brains pretty much finished growing and changing by the time we were 3 years old, with a few alterations up through puberty. Now we know that the brain is, in fact, “plastic,” that is, it is possible to build new neural pathways up until we die. In a fascinating book by Doidge, called The Brain That Changes Itself, story after story is told about how seemingly hopeless cases–people with brain injuries or diseases–were able to re-route neural pathways from injured areas of their brain to other areas, which took up the functions of the injured areas, through persistent therapies and exercises.

In the context of Positive Psychology, this offers real hope in the possibility of not only dealing with conditions, like depression, even schizophrenia, without the use of pharmaceuticals, but also reinforces the effectiveness of certain behaviors that can bring about real change. Research has shown that our level of happiness is about 50% due to genetics, 10% to our environment or situation, and 40% to the choices we make in our thinking and our behavior. That means we can intentionally make a big difference in our level of happiness by choosing certain behaviors and ways of thinking over others AND by doing so, can actually change the neural pathways in our brains.

For example, I may be prone to being a “fault-finder” or seeing the glass half-empty. By writing down 3 or 4 or 5 things that I’m grateful for every night for a month, I can actually begin to re-wire my brain so that I may become more of a “benefit-finder,” and begin to see the glass as half-full. I begin to notice things during the day that I’m grateful for, notice not only the things that bother me about a person or situation, but also the things that I appreciate and find hopeful.

As I get older, I find this research to be especially hopeful, as I do not have to resign myself to a steady downhill decline in brain function! Maybe this means that even though I forget names and even words occasionally, there’s a good chance that with exercise and the other behaviors I choose to engage in, [and with genes from my 93-year-old-still-walking-6-miles-a-day mom] I may very well be able to carry on a fairly intelligent conversation for many more years.

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