New Year’s inspiration

To all of my readers, I wish you a very happy, healthy, and successful 2011, full of love, accomplishment, choice, and contribution, and above all, a year that is completely unleashed.

I have had such an incredible time in the last few months with this blog, and I thank each and every one of you for reading. A very special thank you to those who took the time to make comments, both publicly and privately; you have helped me to see that there are many, many people out there who are committed to playing big, with honesty, integrity, and honour. You know who you are. There are too many of you to name. Thank you so very much.

If you have visited Mark Unleashed before, you know how much I love quotes, and how at least one of them makes it into most of my posts. Well, this post, to kick off the new year, will kick off with a quote that is my inspiration for the 12 months to come.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle

When I gave my brother my new year’s wishes, I ended with “Don’t hope for 2011 to be great. Make it great.” He answered that he expects that kind of language from me. I was honoured to know that he listens to me that way. My way is one that says that we can control our destiny. We have a say in how things will go for us, in how we handle life’s roller coasters, and in the results we can achieve.

For as long as I have believed this, it was based largely on a mix of the experiences others shared with me, the experiences I was gaining by trying on a new approach to life, and a blind faith that my life could be something that I can influence rather than believing a sad story that I was just on this earth to dodge proverbial bullets, react, and follow a pre-destined path.

Just over 1 month ago, flipping through channels, I was extraordinarily fortunate to add some basis in science to the evidence I have that supports my approach. I happened across an episode of CBC’s “The Nature of Things”, hosted by David Suzuki. This is not a show that I would have ever seeked out. This episode was called “The brain that changes itself” based on a book of the same name by Toronto psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Norman Doidge. This episode shared the concept of “neuroplasticity”, a science that shows that our brains are not, as once believed, “hard wired machines” or “computers” that just “are the way they are”, but rather have the “remarkable ability to change themselves.”

On November 28th, the date of the episode, I made myself a note to write about this incredible paradigm-changing science in a future blog entry. Tonight, I watched the episode again online (link below), thinking that this science is so inspiring that it would be an incredible way to open my blog for the new year, a year where I will be guided by Aristotle’s aforementioned quote.

In this episode, we are introduced to various scientists studying neuroplasticity in Canada and the United States, and accomplishing mind blowing things while learning about how our brains function, change, adapt, and even repair themselves. Though I invite everyone to watch the whole episode, I am going to focus on only one of the segments, the one that I think has a practical, real life lesson for all of us.

Starting from the new principle that the brain can actually change itself, one of the scientists, Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone was interested specifically in the link between our actions or thoughts and changes in the brain. His segment starts with a little experiment showing how he works with a brain map to stimulate or suppress certain areas of the brain, and therefore directly stimulate or suppress certain parts of the body.

Using this brain mapping, he shares an experiment where 2 groups of subjects are placed in front of pianos. The first group is asked to repeat, physically, a five finger pattern back and forth for a given amount of time. The second group is shown the same pattern but is told to only THINK about the pattern in their brain but to not actually move their fingers. All participants from both groups have their brains scanned before beginning the experiment and again after participating for a given number of days.

The results are astounding: both the subjects who physically moved their fingers and those who merely thought about the movements showed the same level of growth in their post-experiment scan, in the area of the brain responsible for finger movement.

Dr. Pascual-Leone sums up the 2 lessons learned in a powerful, succinct manner: First, he concludes that “just thinking will change your brain” and, consequently, “one needs to be careful with what one thinks.”

Specifically, this experiment teaches us that the brain is affected by things we think repeatedly. We can actually change our abilities by thought alone. So, someone who is constantly thinking negative thoughts may actually be causing the parts of their brain that controls anxiety, fear, paranoia, etc.. to grow and become stronger. Similarly, people who cause their brains to be filled with positive thoughts, people who create happiness, who focus on their abilities, are likely actually causing these thoughts to come true in future actions.

My brother has called me crazy on more than one occasion, a title I wear proudly, especially when my “craziness” manifests itself by way of positive, empowering thoughts. With the addition of scientific discoveries to my arsenal of rationale for this way of being, perhaps I become a little less crazy. More than that, perhaps the discovery of the effects of neuroplasticity sensitizes more people to how important it is to create their thoughts rather than to listen to that voice in your head that screams at you repeatedly to hit the snooze button on your alarm clock rather than get up to tackle your day.

We take great care in managing the food that we put into our bodies in order to achieve physical health. In the coming year, I invite everyone to take on managing the mental “food” we put into our brains in order to achieve a mental health unlike any previous year.

I look forward to hearing about your progress on this mental diet. With practice, we can change our minds in ways we never thought possible.

Once again, let us make 2011 an absolutely amazing year.

Link to the episode itself: http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/Shows/The_Nature_of_Things/ID=1233752028

The Nature of Things episode information, CBC Website http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/natureofthings/2008/brainchangesitself/

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