Ever been told you need to change your outlook, or adopt a more ‘resilient mind-set’? Are mindsets even real, or are they just psychobabble?
According to brain plasticity experts, mindsets are real and the result of the interaction between our environment, nervous system and DNA. A mind-set is actually a group of neurological mind-maps that we create to perform a task, or respond to input coming from the senses.
Resilience has become a buzzword for a group of behaviours that enable an individual to withstand, or recover quickly from, adversity or adapt to changed conditions. Much attention has been paid by researchers to the study of individuals who demonstrate a resilient mind-set in the face of trauma, in the hope that a model of resilience can be developed and taught.
In my research into the interaction between behaviour, our DNA, and the environment, I was drawn to the work of neuro-plasticians (scientists who study the brain’s ability to change itself) like Edward Taub and Michael Merzenich,[i]1 whose work is complementary to that of quantum biologists Pjotr Gariaev and Vladimir Popponin.
While quantum biologists, Gariaev and Popponin, investigate how environmental mechanisms switch DNA on or off, Taub and Merzenich have dedicated their lives to understanding how the nervous system responds to signals from the environment, learns new skills, and develops habits. Their research reveals a dynamic neurological process where the mind creates maps for how it responds to signals coming from the senses, and then recreates them on demand.
What do we use Mindmaps for?
There are maps for everything we do, hear, see, feel, taste and smell. These maps contain the precise sequence and location of neurones (cells) in the brain as they are fired. The more we are exposed to something, and respond in a similar way, the more defined and refined these maps become, and the more of our brain the map owns. We have maps for walking, for holding a ball or gripping a cup, and we have maps for our emotions, for what triggers feelings of love, sadness, fear, anger or arousal.
Being aware of how our behaviour is laid down in our nervous system by repetition and reward allows us to decide if a particular mind-set is productive.
Mindsets are literally groups of associated neurological mind-maps that work together, or fire together. There is a saying in brain plasticity that says: ‘neurones that fire together, wire together’ and ‘neurones that fire apart, wire apart.’[ii]
This grouping of mind-maps doesn’t just apply to physical responses, but to the secretion of brain chemicals that underpin emotion. Our brain maps our experience by creating 3D, holographic, topographical maps and then storing these throughout our cells, from the brain stem and spinal cord, down into the peripheral nerves themselves.
When a situation resembles an aspect of a past experience, this triggers the projection of the 3D mind-map almost instantaneously, and causes neurones to fire in a precise sequence, making our response feel automatic or unconscious. Every time we relive an experience, we add detail to, or amend information in the map, literally re-writing our past.3 The brain then links experiences to deepen and add detail to mind-maps, making them more refined and complex.
Overcoming Damaging Mindmaps
Sometimes, however, circumstances in the environment change so swiftly that our mind-maps are no longer appropriate.
It therefore follows that someone who is good at playing piano will have a bigger map for the movement of their fingers and hands than a soccer player. While the soccer player would have more of their brain devoted to the nuances of moving the body, legs and feet than would the pianist.
Mind maps draw on abilities we have inherited from our parents that are the best fit for a particular experience or stimulus coming from our environment. This explains why we can carry a gene for depression and anxiety, but if we do not experience sustained bullying or trauma as a child, this gene may not be called on. Meanwhile if we are taught functional ways to handle aggression and conflict, these skills will instead become the basis of a mind map that gives us an evolutionary advantage for survival and thus reproduction, and may then be naturally selected for over the generations in preference to humans with the older code.[iii]
If this mind map is reinforced over and over again by practice and experience, there is a good chance it will be laid down in the DNA as an alternative code, which can be passed onto future generations. A parent who copes well with conflict and aggression is also more likely to teach these skills to their offspring, further reinforcing the resilient behaviour. Over multiple generations, this reinforcing of a healthy response to aggression and conflict may lead to a dominant trait in descendants that predispose them to resilience.
This brilliant, new research over-turns both the ‘dominance of the gene’ and ‘brain localisation’ theories, proving the dynamic interplay between genetic material and our experience of the world through our senses.
Resilient individuals can be said to have highly functional maps that provide a strong pattern for the nervous system to rely upon, as well as the ability to be able to break these maps down when they are no longer useful and replace them with better response maps.
Positively charged emotions like gratitude, love, acceptance and joy produce dopamine and endorphins that help lay down new mind-maps, as well as oxytocin that helps dissolve the old mind-maps being replaced. This explains why it is only at the point of acceptance in the cycle of grieving that individuals are able to finally let go of what was lost and move on. Acceptance promotes the production of the very brain chemical that melts away old mind-maps and allows new mind-maps to supersede them.[iv]
Experiencing a reward for new behaviour also triggers more dopamine, helping to reinforce connections between neurones, strengthening a new map. Fear, on the other hand, shuts down the nervous system and DNA expression, leaving us with only the most primitive maps to fall back on.
This explains why fear and anxiety can render us speechless and unable to respond. Soldiers are trained to overcome this through the repetition of skills under extreme pressure, and through receiving rewards for the desired, resilient behaviour.6 Even soldiers, when exposed repeatedly to stress and trauma, may experience post-traumatic stress symptoms and be overwhelmed by fear, rage or depression.
The amazing thing about mind-maps is that they are three dimensional, and stored holographically within the nervous system and DNA. But even more amazingly, they are plastic and highly susceptible to change. This new evidence is transforming the way medicine rehabilitates stroke victims and brain injury patients, leading to a virtual rewiring of damaged brains around dead cells. The key to this new model of rehabilitation is to re-learn skills for the damaged limb, motor skill or brain function as if for the first time, step-by-step, like a baby, and by providing a reward for each incremental improvement.[v]
In this way, some patients with catastrophic damage have regained almost full function of motor-skills, despite a prognosis they would never recover.[vi]
Elisabetta is the author of the best-selling non-fiction book - The Energy Code.
She is also the author of The Infidel, Veritas and Nemesis and was the librettist for the musical - D'Arc, The Legend of Saint Joan.
Elisabetta works as a consultant to government organisations, entrepreneurs and NGOs on innovation, change management and talent retention.
Learn more about Elisabetta at:
[i] M. M. Merzenich, 2001, Cortical plasticity contributing to
childhood devSiegler, eds. Mechanisms of Cognitive
Development: Behavioural and Neural Perspectives. Mahwah,
N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, p68.
[ii] Norman Doidge, MD, The Brain that Changes itself, Scribe,
[iv] 4 Sugden, Karen, Kings College Bullying Study, Kings College
[v] Ramachandran, V.S, The Tell-Tale Brain, 2010
[vi] Doidge Opcit, p119