Understand Brain Maps | Change a Habit | Change Your Life

Understand Brain Maps | Change a Habit | Change Your Life

Understand brain maps and you can learn how to change a habit, change your life. Now that’s a bold, somewhat bizarre statement. Nonetheless, it holds the key to the power each of us can wield over the health of our brain and therefore the quality of our life. Here is a very basic explanation.

How Brain Maps Are Formed

1.  The brain controls everything we think, feel, say and do. It does this through neural networks – basically, neurons (cells) talking to one another in the brain and to and from other neurons throughout the body through the central nervous system. Neurons in the brain are also called brain cells.

2.  The way our brain cells connect to one another (in other words, form neural networks) is what determines what we think, feel, say and do. By the same token, the thoughts, behaviors we’ve adopted, our environment, genetics, outside influences and the like all influence this pattern of connection. In other words, it influences which neurons are firing; which neurons are receiving and which networks are being formed. If you’re not familiar with neural networks, this post gives you the overview, Here’s To Neural Networks and Neural Transmitters: Keys to Brain (and therefore physical and emotional) Health . As you’ll read in that article, neurotransmitters, neurons, receptors and synapses are keys to the brain’s communication system – its neural networks.

3.  To help the brain be more efficient, the neural networks that are being repeatedly activated (meaning used at the same time, such as those used for driving a car or typing on a computer or texting on a cell phone) or those we instinctually use (such as those used for breathing or heartbeat) become those that are strengthened (wrapped in a myelin sheath is the term) to form a brain map for an activity. In his book, The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge describes this concept by quoting an expression, “Neurons that fire together wire together” to form embedded brain maps for that which we think, feel, say and do.

Why Brain Maps Are So Important

The images below are of the left and right side of the brain, copied from HiddenTalents.org, ©2001 Stephen Holland. They shows the activities in various parts of the brain that are controlled by the neural networks in those parts of the brain.

Left side of brain - activity in a specific area is governed by neural networks in that area. Source: HiddenTalents.org, http://hiddentalents.org/brain/113-maps.html

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Left side of brain – activity in a specific area is governed by neural networks in that area. ©2001, Stephen Holland, HiddenTalents.org. Source: http://hiddentalents.org/brain/113-maps.html

 

Right side of brain - activity in a specific area is governed by neural networks in that area. Source: HiddenTalents.org, http://hiddentalents.org/brain/113-maps.html

CLICK TO ENLARGE. Right side of brain – activity in a specific area is governed by neural networks in that area. ©2001, Stephen Holland, HiddenTalents.org. Source: http://hiddentalents.org/brain/113-maps.html

Brain maps are what allow us to get through the day with efficiency. If we had to think through all the body parts that go into brushing our teeth, for example, this one activity would take quite some time to complete. With an embedded brain map, it takes on a “life of its own,” so to speak. It just happens. It becomes a habit.

By the same token, to switch hands and brush our teeth with our non-dominant hand would also take some time. We’d likely have to put the toothpaste in our bedroom in order to jar our thoughts to move away from the embedded brain map long enough to remind ourselves, “that’s right, I’m switching hands” – and thereby wiring a new brain map.

Thus, if a person’s brain is injured – by a traumatic brain injury or PTSD or substance abuse or addiction or chronic exposure to secondhand drinking, as examples, wherever the injury or change occurs will be the neural networks impacted. Meaning – a person’s behaviors governed by brain maps in that area of the brain will change.

How to Change a Brain Map

It is not easy to be sure. It will depend on how long the map has been in use, how many other maps it connects with, your conscious awareness of the map(s) and your untiring dedication to doing whatever it will take to change the map(s). [Think the toothbrush example given above.]

1.  Understand how your brain map went together – see the above. In the case of addiction or secondhand drinking coping patterns, this post will give you a general sense of how that may have happened, “Secondhand Drinking Prevention.”

2.  Appreciate the importance of cues and learn new skills to cope or ignore the old cues. Cues are a sound, sight, touch, smell, memory  – the “something” that triggers the start of the map in the very first place. It could be the time of day, a person, a place, a song, stress…. This post shares the process for changing automatic reactions to conflict, “Step Away From the Conflict – Change Where You Think,” and this post helps in a similar way, “Courage to Change the Things I Can.”

3.  Do the key things you can do immediately to restore or bolster brain health – yes – the things I cite next are now scientifically understood to change the “infrastructure” of the brain. Neurotransmitters, for example, are made of amino acids, vitamins and minerals – thus eating a nutritiously healthy diet improves the health of one’s neurotransmitters. These things include: nutrition, aerobic exercise, sleep, and mindfulness. I highly recommend Dr. John J Ratey’s book, SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

4.  If you are dealing with brain changers, such as addiction, secondhand drinking coping patterns or mental illness, find help specific to healing the brain of these brain changers. There is a host of information to that effect on this website.

5.  Remember you’re changing an embedded brain map – rewiring your brain. This takes unfailing dedication and a commitment to try something else if what you’ve tried did not work. It also takes practicing the new behavior (habit) in order to embed the new brain map. To emphasize the power of this, I want to share the outcomes experienced by one young person I worked who was born prematurely and suffered a brain bleed and mild cerebral palsy as a result. We worked together and with her teachers and doctors to develop and wire in “work arounds” to train her brain to use other pathways in order to achieve desired outcomes, such as walking heal/toe, staying organized, developing effective study habits. It took a great deal of time (years) and effort, but it worked. Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk, “Stroke of Insight” further demonstrates the power of the brain to re-wire, to heal, to change.

©2013 Lisa Frederiksen, BreakingTheCycles.com
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Note: if this kind of information is of interest and could help your employees, your patients, your students…, please visit the portions of my site, Presentations | Workshops and Consulting

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.

38 Responses to Understand Brain Maps | Change a Habit | Change Your Life

  1. Don’t forget the Control of One’s Own Emotions – The “Power of Positivity”

    • So true, Fred! And we have the power to change our automatic responses to emotional cues by changing our embedded brain maps around the emotions and our automatic reactions. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Great article here, Lisa. Thanks for sharing what we can do to restore or bolster brain health. I appreciate so much that you keep us informed about the latest brain research. You keep us well informed.

  3. It’s amazing to think that we can learn to retrain our brains. And that is so important to know and to act upon when we’ve been exposed to a trauma or a situation such as living with an alcoholic.
    I know that when I started in recovery there was a awful lot of things to ‘unlearn’ and many more new things to ‘learn’ in everyday life.
    Such an interesting subject Lisa, thankyou!

    • It was such an amazing revelation for me, as well, Carolyn. In the work I do with addicts, alcoholics and their families, this research is continually much appreciated as it provides the “ah ha” moments and explanations for how the disease and secondhand drinking impacts develop and what can be done to undo them, so to speak. Thanks so much for your comment!

  4. I love the new site and yes! The mapping how cool is this!

  5. Shari says:

    Great to connect with you via Strategic Social Media! Thank you for this very informative and useful post. Have you read Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit? You might enjoy it!

  6. Anita says:

    Love brain science and I am just exploring it. My daughter will love this post! I will share it 🙂

  7. MamaRed says:

    Awesomely great stuff Lisa…and what a fascinating concept! Wowser

  8. Liz B says:

    Wow Lisa – I am mind blown…I had no idea! Thanks!!

  9. Sherie says:

    Loved this article on brain maps, Lisa! This is quite fascinating work that you do and what a great example of how you helped rewire the brain of that young person. Awesome!

    • Thanks so much, Sherie – I’ve found it so fascinating, myself, and it sure helped me unravel years of unhealthy coping skills that I’d developed while trying to deal with family members and friends’ alcohol abuse and alcoholism. It took me 3 years of individual therapy – much around cognitive behavioral therapy – and this research to finally make the “switch.”

  10. This is really interesting stuff Lisa! I remember reading when I was learning about my introvertedness about how the brain is wired differently for introverts and extroverts. I never really thought about actually using the information to change habits though. Thanks!

    • I know what you mean, Helena – in my own situation, I kept telling myself, “It could be worse,” until one day, someone said, “Yes, but it could be better.” Funny how these little messages can throw a switch – and then, of course, it takes understanding how the whole ‘brain thing’ works – which I didn’t fully grasp / have until the research and therapy work I’ve done / been doing this past decade or so… Thanks so much for your comment!

  11. The brain is so fascinating. We know so much yet so little! I’m so interested in changing my own thoughts and thinking, I find the whole subject spiritual really. Thanks!

    • I agree, Martha – it’s just the beginning of our deeper understanding but boy is it exciting. I also agree with the spirituality aspect. I’ve found that to be true in my own case – it’s one thing to have knowledge about the mechanics but the actual implementation is quite another matter. Spirituality – such as long hikes in the woods and hills or at the beach near my house, by myself, focused on just being there and conversations with my HP – helps me stay and/or re-center myself so I can get to or stay in the grooves of my new brain maps and even wire new ones. Fortunately, there’s no one, nor right, way to do this stuff because each of us has our own sets of experiences, brain maps, genetics…. The most important take-away, for me, was to know it’s doable. Thanks so much for your comment!

  12. Number 9 says:

    Great interesting read! In another life I should have been a neuro scientist because I love reading about all this brain stuff.

  13. Thanks for this amazing information! The human mind-body is such an amazing thing when you look at all of the capacity to train and retrain.

  14. Have you ever heard of Dr Caroline Leaf? She talks a lot about the brain and she is a power house of information. Check her out on Youtube. I think you will like her… Great post, Lisa. 🙂

  15. Aimee says:

    The excellent book the Power of Habit really helped me focus on the cues. I am currently using EFT to change my response to certain cues, the hard part is figuring them out and then being conscious of the cues as they are happening.

  16. Wow, Lisa, there is so much info here. I am coming back to read it more thoroughly. Thanks.

  17. […] The first step, of course, is to stop all use of the substance because the substance is what triggers the embedded brain maps of the disease. Not an easy task but it is the most important principle to hang onto throughout one’s recovery. Even though the brain is saying use (recall what you read about cravings in #2), using any amount will trigger the embedded brain maps. To this concept of brain maps, check out “Understanding Brain Maps: Change a Habit, Change Your Life.” […]

  18. […] The first step, of course, is to stop all use of the substance because the substance is what triggers the embedded brain maps of the disease. Not an easy task but it is the most important principle to hang onto throughout one’s recovery. Even though the brain is saying use (recall what you read about cravings in #2), using any amount will trigger the embedded brain maps. To this concept of brain maps, check out “Understanding Brain Maps: Change a Habit, Change Your Life.” […]

  19. […] be the target organ for addiction. Our former practices in active addiction established ingrained brain maps, (thanks, Lisa Frederiksen) or the above mentioned, programmed routines that our minds, bodies […]

  20. […] be the target organ for addiction. Our former practices in active addiction established ingrained brain maps, (thanks, Lisa Frederiksen) or the above mentioned, programmed routines that our minds, bodies […]

  21. Adele La Franque says:

    How can I, as a mental health and certified addiction counselor present this important information in a user friendly format so that clients with low to average levels education can understanding the addiction process. Most of my clients are interested in relapse prevention.

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