The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science
Growing up, I was taught in my science classes that the brain grew as you grew, that when you hit around 25 years of age your brain was ‘fully formed’, and after that it went downhill. It may have been a little more complex than that, yet the main theme was essentially that as an adult your neurons, or ‘grey matter’, gradually died off.
Although I was rarely ill as a child, I had several small head injuries. I knocked my head against things, including walking quickly around a corner into a ‘bigger boy’, getting knocked to the ground and having concussion. Even as a teenager, I fell off a horse and got concussion (twice) and I remember being a little worried. I was convinced I was ‘killing’ my neurons! Based on my learning as a child, I was concerned my grey matter would be diminishing, and I used to joke that I would be 70 years of age and end up completely loopy cycling around the Southern Highlands with a stuffed pigeon on my head.
You can imagine my relief when learning more about neuroscience and understanding that I may have been misled. One book that was instrumental in changing my view was Norman Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself.”
Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Norman Doidge, M.D., published his book in 2010, and it is still highly relevant. It opened my eyes to possibilities.
If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend it as one of the most insightful books on neuroplasticity.
There are many other books on neuroplasticity that have been published since, yet this is still one of my favourites. Some of the stories really do ‘blow your mind’ – pun intended.
What is neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity really came to life in the 1960s as scientists started to explore the inner workings of the brain, and found that neurons could ‘re-organise’ after traumatic events. This book focuses on the stories of how our amazing brain changes its structure with every activity we perform, every thought we create, and the actions we take.
The book highlights situations where learning disorders are overcome, IQs raised, memories sharpened, mental disorders ‘cured', and lifelong character traits changed. Allow yourself to be taken on a journey with some amazing scientists who have made a difference in so many people’s lives. Enjoy stories of people’s lives who have been changed by the beliefs and dedication of these scientists.
Some of my favourite stories from the book:
Barbara Arrowsmith – you may have heard her name, as she has changed the lives of so many children with her Arrowsmith Programme that works with students to strengthen cognitive capacities and overcome learning challenges. The book shares her personal story and how her journey led her to the last 40 years of work in this area. I know several Australian families who have travelled to Vancouver to work with her, and their children’s lives have changed.
The story of Michelle Mack is inspiring; she was born with half a brain that rewired itself to work as a whole. The story of a paralysed man who learnt to orgasm using a different part of his body. Ramachandran's ground breaking work on phantom limb pain. Stories of extraordinary abilities made possible by the incredible human brain.
You will learn that your thoughts can switch your genes on and off, altering our brain anatomy.
We are now reading more about neuroplasticity every day – in schools, behavioural training, in research and brain scans that show changes. We are learning about how habits can shift, and how disorders are being cured – there are so many studies, pieces of research, podcasts, books and papers that it is normal now to believe your brain can change. For this I am grateful and I hope students in schools are now learning about the amazing power of their brains.
This book led the way in sharing what was happening in neuroscience research, and explains neuroplasticity to those outside academia, in an enjoyable, easily digestible way. It is worth your time! Even if you have read it before, this book is worth revisiting. Your brain will thank you!