The Why, How and What of Neuroplasticity

By Dr. Niraj Nijhawan, Founder, Life Ecology Organization (LEO)

One of the most exciting and fascinating recent discoveries in neuroscience research is the human ability of neuroplasticity. Simply put, neuroplasticity is the capacity for the brain at any stage of one’s life to grow, change, and, in essence, learn.  It is a superpower we all possess and can use on a day-to-day basis!

So why is this superpower of neuroplasticity important to you and your roles as educators? Everything that one learns, does, or even thinks is a neural network in their brains. Whether it is a model of understanding, knowledge of any area, or acquired skills in music2, sports3, communication, leadership, relationship building, truly anything, our brain organizes these abilities into beautifully complex neural networks. 

The truly interesting and amazing thing about neuroplasticity is how it can help everyone improve their lives. Every person has the ability to shape and change their brain’s neural networks until the day that they die!  This includes both expanding the parts of the brain that best serve us and help us survive in modern society and shrinking the parts of the brain that are causing us physical, emotional, and mental pain4. Through observation and compilation of research, it has been discovered how to accelerate and target this process of neuroplasticity. Through investing the proper time to learn to tolerate and change according to external and internal feedback, anyone can grow their neural networks and become a master.  

Research has shown that there are no innately talented people. Anders Ericsson, arguably the founding father of the science of genius or mastery, has also found through research that there are no true “prodigies” in any field; all stories of immensely talented young people such as Mozart can be traced back to deliberate practice in that person’s youth1. Deliberate practice is described as practice that is focused on improvement in areas that either other masters or one’s own internal observer has given feedback on and needs to be improved. This approach does take time, but it is truly the only way to improve anything in one’s life!  

So, what can we do to incorporate this superpower of neuroplasticity into our work and activities and improve the quality of our lives? Like any other part of the body, the brain needs to be trained to operate more optimally5.  By default, our brains are trained to defend our self-esteem and ignore feedback. Picture receiving or delivering feedback that’s unsolicited. How does it make you/them feel or react? Imagine being able to reduce this discomfort by reconfiguring your brain!  By utilizing various brain hacks and training, we can increase our tolerance to feedback, thus allowing us to learn, grow, create, and connect more rapidly.  The LEO Program has successfully tested an intervention that teaches multiple brain hacks to help individuals and communities better give and tolerate feedback, transforming the way these communities grow and deal with changes that are presented to them. The bottom line is you have an unlimited capacity to train your brain to reframe negative situations and drive blood flow to what we call the Higher Brain, thus increasing your tolerance to feedback and enabling you and others to grow, learn, and connect faster in any aspect of life you choose!

Neuroplasticity is an amazing superpower that should give everyone great hope in our ability to change the default settings in our brains and help improve the world and people around us!  If one invests the time into improvement through brain hacks and learns to accept and grow from honest feedback, beautiful things can be created by communities of people dedicated to helping each other flourish.  Check out this longer form presentation on the brain hacks of accelerating and targeting neuroplasticity and feel free to reach out with questions or comments at [email protected]

  1. Ericsson, Anders and Pool, Robert; Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Eamon Dolan/Mariner Books, 2017

  2. Gaser C, Schlaug G. Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians. J Neurosci. 2003 Oct 8;23(27):9240-5. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.23-27-09240.2003. Erratum in: J Neurosci. 2013 Sep 4;33(36):14629

  3. Bilalić M, McLeod P. Participation rates and the difference in performance of women and men in chess. J Biosoc Sci. 2007 Sep;39(5):789-93. doi: 10.1017/ S0021932007001861

  4. Adapted from: Koob, G.F., “How The Brain Forms New Habits: Why Willpower Is Not Enough” (lecture, Institute for Brain Potential, 2012).

  5. Hertzog C, Kramer AF, Wilson RS, Lindenberger U. Enrichment Effects on Adult Cognitive Development: Can the Functional Capacity of Older Adults Be Preserved and Enhanced? Psychol Sci Public Interest. 2008 Oct;9(1):1-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01034.x. Epub 2008 Oct 1. PMID: 26162004.