Principles of Neuroplasticity

Want to know how to learn or comeback from an injury? Then this article is for you. We look at the principles of Neuroplasticity and what it means for your life.

What is Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change, strengthen and build new neural pathways.

It’s made up of two words. Neural, which means relating to the nervous system and Plasticity, which means the ability to change and adapt.

The focus of Neuroplasticity has been helping people relearn behaviour and use of their body after brain injury.

However, the principles can be used to understand the way to learn new skills and behaviour in everyday life. It also explains how the environment changes our brain (experience dependent neural plasticity).

Before we understood the brain fully, we believed that only young people had brain plasticity. We now know that older brains also have the same ability, just at a reduced level. The idea is only a few decades old.

Lets have a look at the 10 principles of neuroplasticity to understand how we can use it in our lives.

The 10 Principles Neuroplasticity For Your Life

10 Principles of Neuroplasticity that happen in your brain

10 principles were presented by Kleim and Jones Paer in the journal of speech and language.

They are…

1. Use it or lose it

When you don’t do something for a long period of time the neural circuits will degrade.

If you used to play the guitar or any other instrument and then did not touch it for a few years, you know what this feels like.

2. Use it and improve it

This is the opposite of principle one. Practice makes perfect as they say. Not quite, as you must practice properly. But it gets the point across.

What it means is, the more you do something, the stronger the neural pathway. Practice the guitar everyday in a structured manner and you will get better.

What they also found was that if someone had an injured arm, the brain would prioritize that arm when the person did rehabilitation exercises. Our brain prioritises the weaker, injured side.

3. Specificity matters

In order for Neuroplasticity to be effective it must be specific to what the person wants to achieve.

You can practice the movement of your fingers that will make them more dexterous to play the guitar, but if you are not specific and play the guitar, your skills will not improve. 

This is because the training experience dictates the specific brain function it targets.

4. Repetition matters

The more you do something the better it is. This is why you see musicians, athletes and boxers all drilling the basics over and over again.

Another example is writers. They say if you want to get better at writing, write.

This might seem obvious, but people underestimate how much repetition effects the how well and quickly their skills develop. So remember to get sufficient repetition.

5. Intensity matters

Everyone is different so the intensity (length of sessions and how many sessions) will vary.

However, in a therapeutic setting they found that the more intense the rehabilitation session, the greater the improvement. So make sure you do anything with sufficient intensity.

6. Time matters

This means the earlier after injury you rehabilitate the better. Otherwise maladaptive and compensatory behaviors kick in.

This can apply to learning a new skill. When you start, begin on the right foot otherwise you will develop bad patterns that will be harder to reverse.

I found this when I was injured from lifting, if a practiced a much lighter form of the exercise while getting better, I would improve quicker and not pick up bad habits.

7. Salience matters

Meaning matters when you want the brain to adapt

When something is emotionally important to us we will improve faster.

We must be clear on why we are doing something and why it has meaning to us.

This applies to both therapy and everyday skills. For instance if we are learning the guitar so we can play our daughters favourite song at her wedding, then our brain will adapt to the new skills better and faster.

8. Age matters

Although we have made discoveries  that older people are able to build and strengthen neural pathways, there is a difference between young and older people.

Younger brains are more adaptable. Over 55 it changes, so it will take longer and over an extended period.

9. Transference or generalizations

Improving one area will help other areas as well.

In speech rehabilitation they found that when someone was able to speak louder, their swallowing also improved.

Many people have discovered that Kettlebell swings helped in other athletic endeavour’s that seem to have no direct connection with the muscles worked in the swing.

In Kettlebell circles they call this “The what the hell affect.”

This shows, there is still much we do not understand about how to learn and the the brain.

10. Interference

Neuroplasticity works both ways, you can also create bad behaviour.

If you start by practicing the guitar incorrectly, that is what your brain will adapt to.

Those of us who like to learn things from YouTube can fall into this trap. Without someone to correct you it can be easy to build bad habits.

Trainers often say they would rather train a complete beginner than someone who has some experience. They know they will have to correct many bad habits with the latter.

Principles of Neuroplasticity Conclusion

Neuroplasticity is the brains ability to adapt and change to new stimulus and behaviour.

It has been discovered in the last few decades and we are still learning about the brains powers.

Neuroplasticity is used mainly to improve functional outcomes after brain damage and for speech rehabilitation. However we can apply it’s 10 principles to learning anything new.

After reading the Ten Principles of Neuroplasticity you probably remember them occurring in your own life.

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