Top 10 Principles Of Neuroplasticity
In their seminal paper published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, Jeffrey A. Kleim and Theresa A. Jones put forth what has been widely referred to as the Ten Principles of Neuroplasticity. In this brief article, we’ll dive into each of these key principles and see how they can be applied to overcoming stress related illnesses and anxiety.
At a glance the ten principles of neuroplasticity are:
- Use it or lose it – Neural connections lose strength when they are not being used
- Use it and improve it – Neural pathways grow stronger the more they are used
- Specificity – Your brain forms a specific circuitry in response to specific activities
- Salience matters – Brain exercises must be meaningful to you in order to yield lasting change
- Transference – Working to improve one skill may transfer its benefits to enhancing others
- Interference – Neuroplastic changes that result from maintaining a bad habit can interfere with learning and adopting a new good habit
- Time matters – It takes varying amounts of time for the brain to change depending on how complex or foreign the new behavior or skill is to you
- Age matters, but not as much as you’d think – Younger brains are more plastic but neurogenesis and plasticity continue at any age and phase of life.
- Repetition matters – Consistency is the key to building new synapses and solidifying new skills
- Intensity matters – Neuroplastic changes result from incremental progressive challenges to elicit a positive growth response
Before we take a look at some examples of how these ten principles of neuroplasticity can be applied to improving your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, let’s first define what neuroplasticity is.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Simply put, neuroplasticity is your brain’s innate ability to change both its structure and its function in response to novel stimuli. You can visit our neuroplasticity page to learn all about the history of neuroplasticity and the significant impact it continues to have in such areas as:
- Neurorehabilitation or recovering from brain injury
- Post-stroke rehabilitation such as regaining the lost use of limbs in stroke patients
- Motor learning and new skill acquisition
- Neurogenesis and the formation of new brain cells
- Physical and cognitive performance enhancement
- Slowing the effects of neurodegeneration as seen in adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Overcoming a wide range of physical limitations, disabilities, and previously thought to be “permanent” brain impairments
How does re-origin use neuroplasticity?
The re-origin® program uses self-directed neuroplasticity which is a series of exercises that you are taught to perform yourself. By performing these exercises regularly, supported by group coaching calls and our online curated community, individuals are able to see real adaptive changes in the way they respond to stimuli.
For example, if you’ve suffered from PTSD and found that you’ve become hypersensitive to loud sounds or bright lights, re-origin® can guide you through a process that you can then use on your own to systematically desensitize yourself from those stimuli to which you find yourself overreacting.
The active assumption and what the research suggests is that by practicing a new response with respect to the triggering substance, stimulus, or event – your brain actually undergoes a process of reorganization where by the old hyperreactive fear-based pathways are slowly pruned away a la use it or lose it, and new healthy synaptic connections are formed. The keys are intentional practice with the right amount of intensity, emotional willingness and sufficient repetition.
So let’s jump in now and apply the ten key principles…
The Ten Principles of Neuroplasticity
1- Use it or lose it
Neuroplasticity is a process of “pruning and unmasking” whereby old brain pathways that are no longer in used are “pruned away” in the name of efficiency, and that new freed up energy can be allocated to “unmasking,” forging and solidifying new connections that are a new skill might demand.
So for example, if you used to practice scales on the violin, then those neural pathways related to that type of finger dexterity of the left hand would be maintained and strengthened the more you practice. But if you were to stop practicing, then those connections in the brain would no longer be of use and would eventually wither away to save energy and resources.
As it pertains to re-origin and using this principle to overcoming symptomatic responses involved in illness or anxiety, this same principle applies in the following way: Let’s say you had a fear of spiders and every time you saw one, you’d find yourself with a panic response of rapid breathing and elevated heart rate. But, with conscious intervention, as taught in the re-origin brain retraining techniques, it becomes possible to interrupt this pattern of stimulus and response and practice a new response of your own choice – for instance, deep breathing.
Over time and with repetition, the old synaptic connections associated with the old panic response weaken and disappear while new neural circuits are established to support the new calming response.
2- Use it and improve it
The flipside of “use it or lose it” – “use it and improve it” says that the more you practice something the stronger and deeper the neuronal roots that are associated with that activity or behavior. One fascinating side of this is that research into the power of visualization shows that mental rehearsal can be just as potent as physical practice
In his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, author Dr. Norman Doidge writes about a now famous study that was conducted in which two groups of people were asked to practice finger strengthening exercises. The first group of participants practiced daily repetitions of the exercise for four weeks and saw a 30% increase in strength. While the second group only imagined that they were performing the exercises using daily mental rehearsal which is a type of vivid visualization technique. After four weeks, this second group experienced a whopping 22% increase in strength without having touched a single wait or performed a single repetition of physical exercise.
This study suggests that strength is largely a function of the nervous system’s ability to recruit muscle fibers. And this neural connection can be strengthened by forming new circuits in the human brain using thought alone.
In physical fitness is something known as the SAID principle, which stand for Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. This simply means that your brain and nervous system will adapt to get good and at whatever you do repeatedly – especially when there is a mild to moderate challenge involved in the activity.
The nature of the training experience dictates that progress and growth are both predicated on the presence of a sufficient challenge. For instance, if the heaviest weights in the gym are 50 pounds, you would only ever adapt to be able to lift 50 pounds. But if there is a complete weight rack going all the way up to 500 pounds, then you could incrementally train your way up to higher levels of strength and stamina.
This is due to the cultivation of new neurons associate with motor cortex responsible for movement and force production.
4- Salience matters
When it comes to self-directed neuroplasticity, the person must have a strong and meaningful desire to improve his or her brain function. If that purpose is not there, it would be difficult to stay the course and perform the daily repetitions needed in order to see the proper training effect and get the best results. This is what Kleim refers to as the principles of experience-dependent neural plasticity
re-origin helps its members overcome the challenge of staying consistent with their brain retraining by providing an uplifting community and weekly group coaching calls to help each and every one of its participants stay motivated, encouraged, and tapped into their bright future vision of health.
Transference is the principle behind what makes it possible for the strengthening of one skill set to improve the function of another. To use a sports example, football players spend a lot of time doing speed drills like running in place as fast as they can or training agility by running around obstacles. These exercises then tend to improve the player’s overall performance including running speed and ability to change direction quickly to outmaneuver their opponents.
The benefits of transference can also be applied to someone who struggles with general anxiety. By learning to calm their nervous system through deep breathing or use of the re-origin neuroplasticity techniques, they may remain calm in real-world scenarios that previously might have thrown them for a loop.
The flip side of transference is interference. This is basically when one opposing skill or behavior interferes with and limits the acquisition of its opposite. Much in the same way that you can’t push a pencil with your right hand, while at the same time doing something else with that hand, you can’t for instance condition good back posture if you’re constantly slouching. In order to adopt the new pattern or behavior, you must be willing to relinquish the old one that is inhibiting it.
As it relates to overcoming anxiety, the habit of drinking excessive amounts of coffee could likely interfere with your desire to calm your nervous system, because caffeine, we know, has a potent excitatory effect on the brain.
7- Time matters
Although there is no hard and fast rule for how much time may be needed for the desired neuroplastic changes to set in, we can reasonably assume that the longer and more deeply we’ve been entrenched in a certain pattern of behavior, however subconscious, the more time will be needed to loosen its neuronal foothold.
If you’ve been unwittingly practicing responding with anxiety for as long as you can remember, then it will take some time of intentional interruption, repeated day after day, until that old response begins to fade and is replaced by one of your choosing. But fear not, this doesn’t take as long as you’d think. With the re-origin program in hand, some participants experience lasting relief within just a couple of weeks. The longer you maintain your new pattern, the more it will become your new default state.
8- Age matters
While it is true that younger brains are more plastic by nature, modern neuroscience now has evidence to support the reality of continued neurogenesis throughout a person’s life. This means that you can continue to learn, grow, adapt and change at any age or any phase of life. There’s no reason to get discouraged or doubt your own abilities. Every moment is another chance to build a better brain.
9- Repetition matters
Famed movie star and martial artist, Bruce Lee, once said:
“I don’t fear the man who practiced ten thousand different kicks, I fear the man who practiced ONE kick, ten thousand times.”
This wisdom here is that practice makes permanent. The more you practice a specific pattern, whether a pattern of movement, a pattern of thought, or a pattern of behavior – repetition is the key to solidifying those changes in the brain.
10- Intensity matters
Intensity goes hand in hand with repetition and time. When it comes to personal development or growth of any kind, there’s something known as the challenge to skill ratio. If the level of challenge is too low, then the activity will not hold your full focus, let alone be sufficient to stimulate the growth of new synaptic connections. Conversely, if the level of challenge perceived to be too high such that it greatly exceeds your perceived skill level, then a hyperarousal of the stress response occurs and causes the state of anxiety.
At re-orign, we teach an exact process for how to find your ideal challenge:skill “sweet spot” and stay in your optimal growth zone to ensure you get the maximum benefits from your neuroplasticity brain retraining.
If you enjoyed this article on the ten principles of neuroplasticity, then check out our science-based, self-directed brain retraining program and how you can get started today!
- Frontiers | Neuroplasticity of Language Networks in Aphasia: Advances, Updates, and Future Challenges | Neurology
- Adult neurogenesis, human after all (again): Classic, optimized, and future approaches – ScienceDirect
- Principles of neuroplasticity and behavior (Chapter 1) – Cognitive Neurorehabilitation
- Principles of experience-dependent neural plasticity: implications for rehabilitation after brain damage – PubMed
- Building a neuroscience of pleasure and well-being
- Negative Neuroplasticity in Chronic Traumatic Brain Injury and Implications for Neurorehabilitation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC