If Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow Had Known About Brain Plasticity — What A Story That Would Make!
Scarecrow wants a (head) brain, Tin Man wants a heart and the Cowardly Lion wants courage (guts). So they decide to join Dorothy on her journey to the Emerald City to see the Wizard of Oz, in the hope that he will grant their wishes, while helping Dorothy get back home.
You no doubt remember the story of the Wizard of Oz?
The characters don't realise they already have what they're searching for
What each of them fail to realise is that they already have elements of wisdom, compassion and bravery, they simply don’t recognise these traits in themselves — or know how to develop them.
A Harvard study could have helped them!
Several volunteers at Harvard University’s Medical School were involved in an experiment in neural plasticity.
Neural plasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt and change over time.
They were asked to learn and practice a simple, five-finger piano exercise. They were required to play the same 5 notes for 2 hours a day over five days. (Yes, probably not the most challenging of exercises but hey - it was an experiment!)
A change in thinking
Perhaps a bit like Tin Man, scientists used to believe that the brain was hard-wired, that it atrophied after a certain age, and that we lost some of our mental functioning.
Now we know that, barring disease, the brain can continue to develop, grow, change and adapt.
Each of the volunteers brains were imaged after the periods where the piano was being played. By Friday the area of the brain connected to the finger muscles was substantially bigger than on Monday when the experiment had started.
But here's something that’s even more interesting
Another group of students simply imagined playing the same five notes as the other volunteers but didn’t move their thumbs or fingers.
By Friday the same area of the brain had also massively changed. It looked the same as those of the students who had really played the piano.
Researchers looking only at the imaging could not tell the difference between those who had actually played and those who had only imagined playing.
The physiological consequences on your brain
This experiment substantiates that your very thoughts have physiological consequences on your brain. The brain can change as a result of the thoughts you think. If only Tin Man had known…
“Your heart and gut are still your best guide.” Naveen Jain
3 things to think about
- If you can change your brain by merely thinking about something repetitively what else might be possible for you as a talented human being?
- What kind of repetitive thoughts are you thinking and where are they leading you?
- What impact are those repetitive thoughts having on your body?
These studies have implications for your heart and gut brains too
Your cardiac (heart) brain and your enteric (gut) brain do not have as many neurons as your cephalic (head) brain. Nevertheless they still possess all the characteristics of your head brain - including neural plasticity.
How to develop your heart brain
Studies have shown that acts of loving kindness and compassion strengthen the heart brain.
When you feel compassion, your heart rate begins to slow down. You secrete oxytocin (aka the bonding hormone) which in turn lights up the areas of the head brain linked to empathy and feelings of pleasure.
Expressing compassion makes you more resilient to stress and leads you to feel more optimistic.
How to strengthen you gut brain
The gut’s prime function is courage. Strengthening the gut brain could mean having the courage to be your true self.
It might involve being brave enough to act on what is important to you (your values) or to do something that’s outside of your current comfort zone.
Maybe it’s speaking up about something you believe in, despite what others might think. These things honour your sense of identity and strengthen your gut brain.
If only Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow had known they could change themselves
On their intrepid journey, where they display many elements of courage wisdom and compassion, Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow eventually manage to overcome all the Wicked Witch can throw at them.
Unfortunately the Wizard of Oz turns out to be a bit of a middle-aged con-man and not a Wizard at all. Nevertheless, by giving Scarecrow a diploma, Lion a medal, and Tin Man a heart-shaped pocket watch, he convinces them that they have what they wanted all along.
And so it is for each of us
We have a head, heart and gutsy courage that we can tap into at any time. We can strengthen each brain through practice or repetition.
The first step is to realise that by our thoughts and actions —or inactions — we are indeed influencing our own three brains.
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