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Additional information about Adaptive Plasticity

Here's some more detail about adaptive plasticity that you'll find from neuroplasticity resources including research. I have used the book Level Up by Rob Dial here, complete with references:
(Reference: Dial, Rob. Level Up: Get Focused, Stop Procrastinating and Upgrade Your Life (pp. 199-203). Transworld. Kindle Edition)

"The brain will resist change and try to revert back to well-worn paths it is used to because that requires less energy, so change will take time. You can’t do something today and expect your brain to be different tomorrow. As the saying goes, “Repetition is the mother of skill.” That’s what it takes to build up myelin and change the wiring of your brain. What’s myelin? It’s a sheath along nerves that allows the signals in your brain to be sent more efficiently and without disruption. Picture a cord going into an electrical outlet, like the one on your laptop. It’s rubber on the outside, but that rubber protects the copper wire on the inside that sends the signal. Myelin is like the rubber insulating the cord. More repetition creates more myelin, allowing the signal to be sent faster and more efficiently (Susuki, K., 2010). The brain undergoes a three-step process over time to support learning, build up myelin, and create new pathways. It first changes chemically, then structurally, and finally functionally (Akerman, S., 1992).

1. Chemical change
Depending on your thoughts, your brain can increase or decrease the chemicals it sends to neurons. This can improve short-term memory and help you learn a new skill. Let’s say that you want to learn to play the piano, and on your first day, you learn “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” You had never played it before, but you made a huge improvement in a short amount of time when learning to play this simple song. That’s your brain sending more chemicals to the neurons, but what happens the next day? You might not be able to play the song that seemed so easy the day before. It feels like you forgot everything you learned. Several factors contribute to how and why memories “stick” (sleep, focus, level of emotional stress, fatigue, etc.), but one reason why the song didn’t stay with you was because your brain increased the chemical signaling between neurons to improve only your short-term memory. It’s like writing a message in the sand on a beach that is soon washed away by waves. If you want to make a more significant and permanent change to your brain, you must go deeper. You have to change the structure of your brain.

2. Structural change
It takes time, effort, and repetition to create long-term memory or improve motor skills. When you do something repeatedly, chemical changes lead to structural changes, which is why it’s so important to keep showing up and working day after day because that process of learning creates brand-new connections between neurons that weren’t there before. You’re literally changing the physical structure of your brain. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing; when you learn and focus on something repeatedly for an extended period, it can eventually change the structure of your brain, no matter how old you are. Chemical changes to the brain are like water that builds up or runs down a landscape after it rains. Over time, the rain or accumulation of water can forge new paths that change the landscape permanently. Given enough time, those changes can be monumental—like the Grand Canyon, formed by the Colorado River cutting through rock over time. Structural changes can get different sections of the brain working together for the first time. This is what happens with London taxicab drivers and people who learn how to read Braille.

3. Functional change
After the structure of the brain changes, what makes those changes last in the long term is when you change the actual function of your brain. When you are learning something, entire networks of brain activity shift, so the action you’re learning becomes easier over time and requires less effort. You don’t have to think about it anymore, and that’s how you know you’re changing the function of your brain. One of the best examples of this occurs in piano players. To play the piano, both hands work independently. There are eighty-eight keys, and you can play up to ten notes at a time, which is more demanding than some other instruments. When learning to play the piano, people must overcome being either right-handed or left-handed, so over time, the dexterity of their weaker hand matches that of their dominant hand. Even more impressive than that is how they develop a unique brain capacity that improves the way their brain functions. Researchers have scanned the brains of pianists when they are playing and found that their brains pump less blood to the regions associated with fine motor skills when compared with the average person’s brain (Meister I.G. et al, 2004). This means the brain doesn’t have to expend as much energy to concentrate. The pianists weren’t born that way; their brains developed over time with practice.

Another researcher discovered that experienced jazz pianists, while improvising, created different connections in the frontal lobe of their brains compared with those who didn’t play the piano. This part of the brain is responsible for problem-solving, decision-making, and also spontaneity, which meant these pianists could turn off the part of the brain that would automatically provide a stereotypical response. That allowed them to play in a way that was a true representation of who they were and not copy someone else (Pinho A. et al, 2014).

When you change the function of the brain, actions become automatic, such as driving home from work or turning off the lights when you leave a room. That song you forgot how to play on day two will be something you can play on autopilot without thinking about it, but there is a catch.

If at least 47 percent of your daily actions are habitual, then nearly half of what you do is repetitive. If almost half of what you do every day is the same as what you did the day before, do you really think your brain will change? The brain always tries to move back to a state of homeostasis, so to change your brain, you need to change your actions and then do those same actions over and over. New learning creates new neural pathways. Consistency is key, so show up every day."

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