Can I really rewire my brain?
The plasticity of the brain and its potential
both in terms of prevention and rehabilitation
The neocortex is incredibly flexible in that it can adapt and change in response to environmental experiences; we call this neuroplasticity. The way in which the neocortex is wired dictates how we perceive the world around us, what is filtered in, relevant, of conscious attention, the basis by which we construct our reality, and determines how we respond or react to our experiences. When our experiences are new, we create new connections, and neural “circuits.” The more important or intense an experience, the stronger the wiring and the more difficult it would be to change the wiring.
While the brain is plastic our entire lives, it is particularly wired for change, learning, language acquisition, motor skill development, and general memory formation and storage from the early ages of around 3 years old through adolescence. During this time the brain is continually wiring and re-wiring. That means, if we want to engender healthy behaviors, beliefs, and practices, it is best to start working as early as possible. The American ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas said, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken [adults].” This is such a critical point to remember. But it is also important to keep in mind that we can all change, we can all rewire our brains, throughout our lives.
If our environment is safe, nurturing, and healthy, we learn faster, make rational decisions, and respond to challenges objectively and with a resilient mindset based on the wiring of the neocortex. On the other hand, if our environment is unsafe, hostile, or unhealthy, we are unable to learn, make rational decisions, and more often react quickly to challenges and adversity to protect ourselves. What scientists need to understand now is how to identify when a brain has been wired in an adverse or hostile environment (i.e. the person is traumatized), what the consequence of this neocortical brain wiring is, and importantly, how to re-wire it.