Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Changing Our Minds By Training Our Brains

Very important data suggest that we are able to change our thoughts, feelings, and behavior by directly working on making brain changes.  Because of the brain's plasticity, exercise of particular brain functions stimulates growth in the relevant brain regions.  A good example of this was recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, as evidence accumulates that we can treat depression by training the brain. 

We usually think of talk counseling, therapy, and coaching as being activities that influence our social and emotional functioning directly.  Fascinating research finds, however, that successful talk therapies make important brain modifications.  For example, when counseling is effective for clients with anxiety disorders, imaging studies find brain changes that help explain the change

Might it be the case that we can make changes in thoughts, feelings, and performance far more efficiently by intensively training the brain rather than the usual regimen of writing journals, setting goals, and talking to others?  Traditional professionals, from psychiatrists and psychologists to counselors and coaches, have little incentive to pursue this track; their training--and their reimbursement--comes from dispensing medications and talk.

Those medications and talk therapies indeed have been shown to be effective; I am not arguing against those.  Rather, I'm suggesting that people might be able to make very profound changes surprisingly quickly by targeting brain functions for intensive training.

Greater trading discipline and more consistent performance?  Greater emotional control and improved focus?  Enhanced cognitive flexibility and creativity?  Improved willpower and ability to sustain the quest for goals?

What if there were a cognitive equivalent of CrossFit that could train all of these?

Before there are enlightening answers, there are promising questions.

Further Reading:  Three Applications of Biofeedback