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Correctly by Andre…
If you want to change your brain as an adult, let's say you want to be less anxious, you want to
learn a new language, you want to be more functional in some way, presumably, the key thing is. The nervous system is designed to orchestrate all the processes in the body, not just thinking
and not just behavior, and really can be divided into five things. So there's sensation. And
sensation is really bound or restricted by the receptors in the body. So receptors in the eye that
perceive photons, light energy, percent, receptors in the skin that perceive pressure, you know,
touch your subject, smell, taste, hearing, etc. The nervous system of humans is designed to
extract physical phenomenon from the universe that are non negotiable photons of light, I can't
see in the infrared with my eyes, and I can't see ultraviolet light with my eyes, I can't perceive
that, because I don't have the receptors for it, you know, other animals can perceive some of
those things. But that leads us to the next thing, which is perception, which is which sensations
are you paying attention to. So all the time you're sensing things like right now Your feet are
sensing the contact with your shoes, but you're not thinking about it until I say that, then you
shift your perception. So perception is like the spotlight. So the brain wants to constantly bring
in sensation non negotiable, what's coming in, it's just depending on your environment, perception is negotiable, you can control that, because I just said shoes, and you thought about your feet. And there you are, then there are feelings, which can be a little bit nebulous, but feelings are a link between our emotion and generally invokes the body sensations in the body, and concepts in the mind of what those sensations are about. That's really what emotions are. And then there's thoughts. And thoughts are interesting, because thoughts happen spontaneously, think about like a web browser that's constantly giving you pop ups, but thoughts can also be deliberate. So you and I can decide right now that we're going to think about a plan for something, or we're going to think about what's going on in the world. So
thoughts happen spontaneously, and they can be deliberate. And then the final thing is behaviors and actions. So the nervous system is responsible for sensation, perception, feelings, thoughts and behaviors, from birth till about age 25, the brain is extremely malleable, in a kind of almost passive way where kids are exposed to things and the brain is just wiring up. I mean, the brain is really designed to adjust itself, in order to be in concert with its surroundings. And to optimize that the the brain is basically designed to be customized in the early part of life, and then to implement those algorithms and that circuitry for the rest of your of its life. And so the brain can change in adulthood. And it can change provided that there's an emphasis on some perceptual event. So in other words, if you want to change your brain as an adult, let's
say you want to be less anxious, you want to learn a new language, you want to be more
functional in some way, presumably, the key thing is to bring focus to some particular
perception of something that's happening during the learning process. And the reason for that
is that there's a neuro-chemical system involving acetyl-choline. And it comes from these two
little nuclei down in the base of the brain called nucleus physalis. All day long, you're doing
things in a reflective way. But when you do something, and you think about it very intensely,
acetyl-choline is released from the salice at the precise neurons that were involved in that
behavior. And it marks those for change during sleep or during depressed later. So for people
that want to change their brain, the power of focus is really the entry point. And the ability to
access a deep rest and sleep, because most people don't realize this, but neuro-plasticity is
triggered by intense focus. But neuro-plasticity occurs during deep sleep and rest. So when
we're talking about focus, I think it can get a little bit vague. But it might be useful to think
about, like what exactly is focus and what triggers plasticity. So the brain loves to be able to
just do things, pick up coffee cups, and drink and walk and talk and do things and not put much
energy into it. When we decide to focus, what the brain really does is is switches on a set of
circuits that involve the frontal cortex and nucleus salice and some others. And it's trying to
understand duration, how long something's going to last path, what's going to happen, an
outcome, what ultimately is going to happen. So duration, path and outcome, you know that
the events of early 2020 are a good example of this. One of the reasons why it's so exhausting
to be alive in 2020 is because we are now having to pay attention to duration, path and
outcome. How long is this thing going to last? When or, you know, when are they going to open
up all businesses? Did I touch that door handle? Does it matter? You know, right, who are the
experts? Are there any experts? You know, there are a lot of questions. Whereas Normally, we
can just move through life without having to do all that analysis. So, if it's a simple example, I
tried to learn a new language or a new motor skill, or a new way of conceptualizing something. Maybe somebody is in a therapeutic process and they're trying to work through a trauma or
something like that. Duration path and outcome is built into the networks of the brain. We can
do that very easily, but it takes work and it almost has a feeling of underlying agitation and
frustration. That's because the circuits that turn on before acetylcholine are of the stress
system. So when you are I decide we're going to learn something and really dig in
norepinephrine, which is adrenaline is secreted in the brainstem and in the body and it brings
about a state of alertness, then our attention, which is mostly a diffuse light is brought to a
particular duration path and outcome analysis, this would be thinking about what somebody is
saying, what are they really trying to say, a hard passage of reading a hard, you know, set of
math problems, you know, a challenging physical workout. When you do that, these two
systems have to work very hard. And the adult brain doesn't really want to change the
algorithms it learned in childhood. But if you do those two things, you have alertness and focus,
the acetyl-choline and the nore-pinephrine converge to mark those synapses for change. And so,
so the way to think about neuro-plasticity, if one wants to change their brain is bring about the
most intense concentration you can to something and then later bring about the least amount
of concentration to that thing. There were some studies that were done at Stanford by Gundam
Eric Knudsen, that showed that plasticity in the in the adult brain, any age can be as robust as
it is in childhood as fast and as dramatic, provided the focus is there and it's all contingent on
this acetyl-choline molecule coming from nucleus perse, the right approach is to bring as much
focus to a behavior or to a thought or to an action pattern. And there has to be a sense of
urgency. So what Knutson lab showed and another lab at UCSF, Mike Merson x lab showed is
that if there's a serious contingency, like in order to get your ration of food each day, you have
to learn this thing. The degree of plasticity is remarkable, right? But if there isn't an incentive, it
just isn't going to happen. So the circuits in the brain that Mother Nature set up, are designed
to be anchored to a real need. And people always say to me, Well, should I do something out of
love and a real desire to learn? Or should it be out of fear, but Either one works, the sense of
urgency is just acetylcholine, mids, norepinephrine, that's all it is. It doesn't the brain doesn't
have a recognition of whether or not something is pleasurable or not until later, once you start
accomplishing your goal, the reward systems like dopamine start kicking in. But I think if
people are interested in modifying their brain for the better, at least some you know, top
contour understanding of how urgency and focus must converge for that to happen can be
useful because I think there's a lot of attention paid to whether or not something feels like flow,
or whether or not it's the what I call highly desirable, right? Or whether or not you can you can
eat a plant out of the ground that will magically put your brain into a state of plasticity. And the
answer is yes, such plants exist. But what's missing is the focus component. If that work is not
done with a particular end goal in mind, you'll get plasticity. But you'll get plasticity in a kind of
across the board. It's like learning nine Lang learning a little bit of nine languages all at once, is
not going to make you speak coherently in any one of them. So focus is the key.