Cells that fire together, wire together. Donald Hebb, PhD.
While DNA helps to determine what kind of brain you start with, your life experiences determine how your brain will develop and work over your lifetime. Your nervous system never stops learning and adapting but the early years are the most important. This is when we lay the framework for our “neural network”. Amazingly, we are born with an excess of brain cells. These excess cells and neural connections in the brain die off when they are not stimulated. The saying, “use it or lose it” is a neurological fact.
In the first few years of your life, neuron growth occurs at an amazing rate, allowing us to learn, remember, speak, and move. Beginning with puberty, the growth rate slows down. These early life experiences link neurons to each other and build the foundation for future neural connections (memory) in your brain. This is why it is important for children to have positive experiences because much of our neural circuitry is put in place in childhood. With up to 80% of all brain development occurring before the age of 6. We rely on these early connections as we build new connections thought our life. This neurological foundation is what shapes our future views, memories, thoughts, feelings and all other neurological functions.
Neuroplasticity refers to the changes that occurs in the organization of your nervous system as a result your experiences, thoughts and actions. Each time we have a neurological event, the brain creates either a new synaptic connection (new memory) or reuses an old synaptic connection (old memory). If you do not use these connections the unused connections will simply die off and the more you use a connection the more efficient the process gets.
The brain is made up of tiny nerve cells called neurons, these neurons have tiny branch like structures that reach out and connect with other neurons. Each place where a neuron connects with another neuron is called a synapse or synaptic connection. The pattern and way our neurons connection to each other forms our “neural network”. These connections form our ideas, thoughts, and memories. Every single connection has an influence on our future thoughts and actions. Billions of neurons communicate across these synapses, allowing every thought, sensation, and event to be trace (new memory) or retrace (old memory) neural pathways. There may be only a few hundred or as many as 200,000 such synaptic connections to each neuron.
The more you use a connection the stronger it gets, if you stop using the connection the neurons are pruned away! Use it or lose it!
The more neural connections and synapses (repetition) you have for a particular sensation or function the stronger neurologically the synapse is. Your brain also connects smells, sounds, feelings, emotions and other sensations which also make the neural connections stronger. The brain is considered “neuroplastic” or changing because in responds to life experiences, and then alters its structure and function. Our brain is constantly learning, altering and adapting. But the more you use and re-trace parts of your “neural network”, the function appears to be “hard wired” or automatic. “Use it or lose it”, “practice makes perfect” and “repetition is the mother of all learning”, are not just an expressions, they are neurological facts.
Knowledge allows the you to become aware of the brains power to change and become the observer. Neuroplasticity makes it easier to do some things “automatically”, but it is also why habits or addictions are difficult to break. How does neuroplasticity relate to pain? How can you use neuroplasticity to your advantage?
If we have a new experience the neurons make new synaptic connections or trace new pathways. If we have an experience that as already been traced then the neurons use already established pathway or retraces the pathway. This is why “repetition is the mother of all learning.”. The more a synaptic connection is used the easier it is retraced. If you practice some thing over and over, you are re-wiring and strengthening your “neural network”. You can also break synaptic connections by not using the neuro pathway. Neural pruning is the term that is used to describe neurons dieing off when not being used.
Everything we say, see, do, hear, smell, feel, touch, taste, think and our emotions cause synaptic connections. Different emotions and experiences can synapse with other associated neurons to create our associated “neural network”. Because our body is so aware of its surroundings and is constantly adapting. Different senses, emotions, and experiences can link together. Anger, depression and stress can be linked to pain. If you feel any of the associated emotions, you also feel pain.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of synaptic connections associated with each neuron. Just the act of thinking about a special person in your life, can connect with joy or happiness and will cause a smile. Over our lifetime different thoughts, emotions, experiences, sensations and memories associate together to form our “neural network”.
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Carl W. Buechner
The complexity of our “neural network” is almost beyond comprehension. Over a lifetime, each person will have different experiences, thoughts, ideas, values and education. It is this “neural network” that shapes our present and future thoughts, opinions, and actions. The more synaptic connections we have relating to experiences of pain, learned or observed, the more we feel or associate with pain.
Each person is wired differently, because each person has a different combimation of life's experiences!