The Power of Silence

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

– Francis Bacon

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Silence. What does that word bring up for you? Does it bring up fear? No TV, no internet videos, no talking! Or does it bring up a craving? No distractions, no barrage of noise.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about silence and sleep lately because of some neuroscience studies I’ve read about recently. Research shows that sleep and silence are much more important for our brains than we imagined.

Much of this research corroborates the research I did for my Creative Positive Reframing (CPR) process. In this process there are three main steps: Identify, Reframe and Embed.

Identify the negative – and then do some ‘Synaptic Pruning’

Reframe with positive messages

Embed with visualization, meditation and silence

We all have lots of negative, limiting beliefs about ourselves and our abilities that exist in our brains.  One of the best ways to stop these beliefs from having a free reign in your brain is to stop focusing on them and focus on something positive instead. But once we are able to stop focusing on them, how does the brain get rid of those negative thoughts that exist in old neural pathways?

Our brains get rid of old pathways with a process scientists call ‘Synaptic Pruning’

“Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain—they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?

Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy—or prune—the synapse.

This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.”

Perhaps you are not as interested in the science, so suffice it to say, that the more you use a neural pathway, the stronger it becomes. But the opposite is also true, when you use it less, it gets weaker.  So once you identify the negative belief system, STOP focusing on it! But then the brain needs time to do some clean up, getting rid of the old synaptic pathways.

Our brains need time to prune a lot of those old connections away and build more streamlined, efficient pathways. It does that when we sleep. Our brains do this clean out when we sleep—your brain cells shrinking by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in take away the waste and prune the synapses.

And in fact, you actually have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep. It’s the synaptic connections you don’t use that get marked for recycling. The ones you do use are the ones that get watered and oxygenated. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.

So be mindful of what you are mindful of. Replace the negative with something positive, Reframe it. Be conscious of what you focus on.

There is a saying in neuroscience that neurons that fire together wire together. This means the more you run a neuro-circuit in your brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. Rick Hanson explains this well in his article in Greater Good.  So if you want to take limiting beliefs and creatively transforming them so that they become supportive rather than destructive, this is how you proceed. Hanson explains that ‘You can change your mind, to change your brain, to change your mind for the better!’

Then finally we need some silence to help embed these new neural pathways. Visualization and meditation are key factors. I often talk about the power of visualization and meditation in this blog. So much has been written about it, there is no question that both of these practices are hugely beneficial to the brain and to life!  But what about silence?  More and more research is showing just how important silence is for our brains.

 A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons. “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system. In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.  The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence.

I’d like to close with a wonderful TED Talk by Nick Seaver called The Gift of Silence.

I hope you’ll take some time today and give yourself the gift of silence, and the gift of a great sleep as well. I’d love to hear about your experience with silence.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

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Identify it and set the Intention

“You can use your mind  – To change your brain  – To change your mind for the better!”

– Rick Hanson

Last week I wrote a post about Neuroplasticity and getting rid of bad habits.

The first step is to identify the habit you want to change and set the intention to break it.  That sounds so simple.  But the reality is that bad habits are hard to break, that’s why we call them habits!

Dr. Rick Hanson talks about self-directed neuroplasticity to break habits, or indeed just to change your mind for the better! Dr. Hanson explains that neuroplasticity is ongoing. Our brains are changing all the time. He says that

Neurons that fire together, wire together

So we can create good habits of the mind or bad habits.  The secret lies in focus – do things with clarity, skillfulness and intention.

If we rest our attention routinely on what we resent and what we are dissatisfied with, or our bad habits – that is where we build our neural pathways.
When we change attention – to positive things, blessings, what we are grateful for – we build up a different neural pathway.

Have an intention – to redirect your attention! Attention is like a vacuum cleaner – it sucks whatever it rests up into the brain. New neural pathways are turbo charged when done with attention. So by mindfully internalizing positive experiences, you are consciously creating neural pathways. This is Self-Directed Neuroplasticity.

So by first identifying what the habit is that you want to break, setting the intention to break that habit, and then redirecting your attention from that negative habit to a something else, something positive, you begin to create a new neural pathway. New synaptic pathways can form in as little as 5 – 10 minutes!
It’s only the first step, but it’s an incredibly powerful one.
I want to close with another clip by Dr. Hanson, also on Neuroplasticity.  This one called Take in the Good. Enjoy!
I’d love to hear about any bad habits you’ve broken, and how you changed the behavior.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

Women and Men – maybe not so different after all?

“Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.”

– George Carlin


Ok, so I have to admit it.  I have learned so much from this recent argument with my husband. I guess I can even say that I appreciated the argument!

Yes absolutely men’s and women’s brains work differently.

There are fundamental variations between male and female brains that mean we communicate and respond to situations differently. In a relationship, these differences can unintentionally cause misunderstanding and conflict. It’s generally accepted now that women tend to be wired towards empathy, whereas men develop stronger interest in systems, or how things work and that impacts on how we speak and deal with people.

Neuropsychologist Dr Anne Moir, who featured in the video I posted about men and women being wired differently, believes that a better understanding of how we are wired differently will help us argue less. Well it certainly helped me move to a place of compassion.  After doing research and having a better understanding of how our brains differ, I was able to soften toward Jeff and better understand where he was coming from.

It also helped incredibly having a wonderfully rich and fascinating discussion with my dear friends, Jan and Trev.  They are both interested in neuroscience.  Jan with her background in Psychosynthesis; and Trev with an eclectic background and a wide range of studies, both helped me untangle and look at this stuff in a new way.

But actually the experience that really catapulted me into understanding was a situation I had with my own sister.  We had a disagreement about something, and she pointed out accurately that I went straight to my head about the situation, while she went to her heart, and emotionally she did not feel met.  I felt judged by her (as Jeff had said that he felt judged by me) and my sister said she felt like we were in completely different places while trying to communicate (the same thing that I had said to Jeff.)  It was fascinating, and yes, rather uncomfortable.  I had to really back-pedal on so much that I had laid on Jeff!  What an incredible learning experience.

I have several videos that I found educational and enlightening that I would like to share:

There is an educational one just describing an fMRI and how it works.

 

Then there is an intersting video from animal planet about male and female brains

 

There are also two interesting videos from talk shows, Jane and The View that feature the Neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Amen, where he describes fMRIs of men and women and points out the differences.

 

 

 

Maybe you’ll find all of these videos overload, too much information.  But I found it incredibly helpful. And navigating relationships is tough in the best of times.  I can use all the help I can get!

I’d love to hear what helps you navigate your relationship. And as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.