The “white stuff”, and what it means for your brain

I love this snow metaphor of how our ‘plastic’ brain works….(attributed to Pascual-Leone).

Neuroplasticity is like fresh pliable snow on a hill. When you go down the hill on a sled for the first time, you can be flexible in that you can choose whatever route to take. You can take different paths on your second and subsequent trips too if you like. However, if you choose to take the same path each time, a deeper and more permanent track will develop, and soon it will be difficult to sled down the hill without being ‘stuck in the rut’ you have created. Your route will now be quite rigid, and it will take some effort to break out of the rut and establish new pathways.

In a similar way, neural circuits, once established, tend to become self-sustaining. As Doidge puts it in his book “The Brain that Changes Itself”, neuroplasticity works both ways, it gives rise not only to mental flexibility and growth, but can also lead to mental rigidity and stagnation.   

Doidge refers to this as the “Plastic Paradox”.  All of us start out with plastic potential.  Some go on to develop patterns of increasing mental flexibility into adulthood.  Others lose the spontaneity, creativity and unpredictability of childhood and develop rigid mental patterns, following the same snow tracks of the brain over and over.

Seeking variety, learning new skills and following new paths are all ways to continue to increase the integration and neural connectedness in our brains, even into adulthood.

What’s your view on this? Do you have other metaphors that work for you?  Your contributions are very welcome.


9 thoughts on “The “white stuff”, and what it means for your brain

  1. It is so true that what we initially think of as a ‘good thing’ – the fact that we can create good, deep neural tracks in the brain – can also be a ‘bad thing’, as habits and ways of thinking become ingrained.

    As I am interested in learning, I have tended to dwell on the need to really carve those tracks through the neuroplastic snow, and overlooked the idea that you can hit rock bottom and find it difficult to get out of the neural pathway you have created.

    When thinking about learning, I tend to use the idea of building a brick wall with a row of substantial bricks at foundation layered on top with more rows that become increasingly complex or decorative, as you develop understanding and confidence.

    I really like the snow metaphor though – especially as we are about to head off skiing!

  2. I absolutely loved the post. The ability to reset or rewire our brains, the relatively new confirmation that our brains are neuroplastic opens the door to levels of human achievement, happiness that we have not seen before. In my practice I help executive clients move forward faster, smarter and happier by in fact helping them rewrite or reset their default patterns.

    The longetudinal studies on happiness and the brain are also exciting, and while it is rather counter-intuitive to recognize that we need to prime our brain to be happy in order to optimize our potential…it is a new skill we must use. Sharing a post I wrote on this subject, that I hope you will enjoy:)What Brain Science Tells Us: 10 Tips to Prime YOUR Brain for Success

    Thank you for a terrific post. I look forward to reading more of your blog, and to future posts very much.

    Best, Irene

  3. Loved this post. The relatively new discovery that our brains are neuroplastic is exciting beyond measure both in terms of learning and wellbeing. The time has come to help clients learn new ways to think smarter, faster and happier. I am passionate about this subject, because it is the focus of my work. In addition to neuroplasticity recent findings around neurogenesis in the hippocampus are very exciting.

    I also believe that depth and breadth of longitudinal studies around happiness; or rather the importance of priming our brains to be happy in order to optimize potential and wellbeing is another landmark in our evolution as species.

    Sharing a post I wrote about Happiness and Success. I hope that you enjoy it!
    What Brain Science Tells Us: 10 Tips to Prime YOUR Brain for Success

    I look forward to reading more postings on your blog, and to future articles. Kudos on an excellent post.

    Best! Irene

  4. Really interesting! I think there’s a lot in the idea of getting stuck in a rut and losing the creativity of childhood. Did you read a recent interview with Jonah Lehrer on Mashable? He was on there plugging his book about imagination by doing an interview, but he was saying some pretty interesting stuff. He quoted Picasso – “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

  5. Pingback: The Upstairs & Downstairs Brain | Gyro Consulting Services

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