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Deep-dive #1: Our superhero brain

Updated: Jun 2

Have you ever wondered about the incredible abilities of our brain to adapt and change? Well, it's all thanks to something called neuroplasticity. In today’s blog, let's dive into the fascinating world of how our brain reacts to changes and why it matters in our daily lives.

From the beginning of human life, our brain is one mission and one mission only: To solve problems related to “surviving” in an unstable outdoor environment, and to do so in nearly constant motion. In an ever-changing world (today even more than ever), this requires our brain to constantly grow and adapt. Just like a superhero, always ready for action, no matter the challenge or the circumstances. Understandably this is a very demanding and energy-absorbing job. While our brain makes up about 2% of our body’s weight, no wonder it’s our body’s primary consumer of energy: It takes up to 20% of our body’s energy, 25% of our body’s oxygen and up to 60% of its glucose. But for what? 

Well, for cell health maintenance and mainly for entertaining the communication between its neurons, also called “grey matter”. Did you know that there are over 1.1 trillion cells in our brain out of which almost 100 billion neurons? One way to understand a neuron’s laborious work is to imagine them as digital on/off switches zapping information in lightning speed. They are caped crusaders of communication, providing us with the ability to attend, perceive, remember, reason, feel, and sense (both consciously and unconsciously), ensuring our thoughts and actions save the day.

In its pursuit to keep us alive, our brain receives thousands of signals throughout the day. These can be both signals necessary for survival but also perceptual noise, like e.g., the usual bodily sensations we feel when someone we like or don’t like walks into the room or any other of the myriads of stimuli around us. How does the brain separate one from the other? Well, here is one of many of our brain’s superhero powers: It is an excellent pattern detecting machine! The brain has mechanisms that allow it to uncover hidden relationships between objects, people, and events. It scans these relationships constantly - both consciously, but mainly unconsciously - by focusing on what’s important. It weighs the signal depending on whether they match with previous patterns or (more often) whether they match with what we expect. Our brain takes in and analyzes the data in milliseconds! Once it has done so, it decides what to do with that information: It computes the data, and then revises the outcome. Literally every bit of data or every new action forces the brain to remodel itself. It’s selectively reforming its processing capacities to fit each task at hand.

But neurons do not only contain the code of our perception and action; they are particularly brilliant in building trillions of connections and subsequently networks. Think of these connections between neurons as bridges between different parts of your brain. So, neuronal networks are the dynamic superhero teams of our brain, collaborating and unleashing their cognitive superpowers to process information with unparalleled efficiency.

When you learn something new, these bridges between regions of the brain get stronger, helping information travel faster. We are now entering the realm of neuroplasticity, which is like the superhero training camp for our brain: Here, our neurons flex their muscles and adaptability becomes the ultimate superpower. Our brain reshapes itself based on our experiences and the things we learn. Every time you try something new or learn a new skill, your brain is at work, forming new connections between its cells.

Neuroplasticity is a bimodal process: On the one hand it is dynamic, because “grey matter” increases in areas where more neuronal activity occurs. On the other hand, it is also a competitive process, because at the same time neurons that are no longer needed become weaker with time. Ever tried picking up a language you have learned in your teenage years and haven’t used in a while? If you have, you know the feeling. In a nutshell, if you stop using a skill or forget something, those connections can weaken. It's like your brain's way of saying, "I don't need this bridge anymore."

Here's the cool part: Neuroplasticity lasts a lifetime! There is no final endpoint to evolutionary adaption. Even as grown-ups, we can keep our brain in “superhero mode” by trying new things. Ever wanted to play a musical instrument or speak another language? Your brain is up for the challenge!

Which leads us to the ultimate lightbulb moment: The things we pay attention to strengthen our neuro networks and weakens areas we use the least. And every time we learn something new, change our ways or our perspective or reconsider new options and approaches. In other words: “We are what we focus our attention on”! And what we put our attention on unconsciously influences our thoughts and subsequently our decisions.

The shell of the nut:

Embrace change and keep your brain active. Learn, try new activities, and challenge yourself. Your brain loves it, and you might discover some hidden superpowers along the way. Our brains are not fixed – they are incredible, adaptable, and always ready for the next adventure!

How Coaching can support:

Coaching is like the wise guide to your brain’s superhero squad (neuronal networks) through intense training regimes (self-exploration, changing approach, considering new options, changing pattern, etc.). It taps into neuroplasticity, encouraging your brain to flex its adaptability muscles, fostering growth, and helping your cognitive superhero evolve into its full potential.

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