What Brain Training Does: Rewiring
What Brain Training is NOT
As you look through the websites and written material on brain training, you’ll often see it referred to as “rewiring”, “harmonizing” or “balancing” the brain. Those are attractive marketing images, but they aren’t very accurate.
The brain is “wired” in the sense that trillions of connections and networks exist among its pools of neurons, and the more often they are used, the stronger they become. The less often they are used, the more likely they are to be pruned out.
But what causes this “wiring” of circuits to take place? It’s the process of learning. Every time you learn a new word or a new skill or hear a new piece of music, your brain connects networks of neurons related to that experience.
Even if we could somehow tease the tiny signals related to that one transaction out of the millions of others happening at the same time, what would it be worth? Yes, we can re-wire the brain in very specific ways by just teaching it new things.
Brain-training is much less specific than that.
The ability of the brain to shift functions, do things in different ways or places, is built into it like gravity is built into a planet. You don’t “train” it. You might use it by helping train areas to develop around parts of the brain that are damaged and not functioning any more, but it’s a trait of the neural networks, not something you make happen.
Balancing the Brain
A really effective brain is not “balanced” like a scale. It is a homeostasis among many different areas and structures. The left hemisphere SHOULD be faster, the rear calmer than the front. We can compare which quadrants of the brain are most activated—which most relaxed. When those relationships change, so can our moods and stability. A basketball team with 5 7-footers would be imposing but not very successful. It is combining different skills and having them work together that creates success in most endeavors. Freeing the brain from a single dominant theme (e.g. fastwave activity always and everywhere) allows it to work more effectively.
What we can Measure
Imagine that you are outside a gym where a basketball game is being played. You can tell if the game is proceeding—or in a break. You can tell when a team scores, if the pace is fast or slow—the game is close or a rout. You can distinguish organized cheers from game noise.
You don’t know who passed a ball to whom on which team, who just scored the points and whether by a jump shot or a drive. You don’t even know who’s playing: what teams, what players, what each does well. The information is unavailable on the other side of a wall.
What we can’t see, we can’t well train. So brain training focuses on issues of energy and communication. How excited are the different areas of the brain at different times? Do they get stuck in a low-energy state—or a high one? Where is the energy, when is the energy, how under control is it, how well do parts of the brain work together?
Excited brains show more brain areas firing faster—15 or 25 times per second. At that speed the brain tends to produce words and organized thinking. Resting brains fire only 4 to 8 times a second, focus within themselves, think in pictures, depend on intuitive flashes. Both are useful states, both ideal for specific kinds of situations. Ideally your brain would produce different energy states, shift to the best one for a situation, and stay there as long as necessary.
But when a brain is fast because it is overly excited or irritated as a trait—not just a temporary state—it wastes energy, produces anxiety, stress, anger, fear. Perhaps it gets rigid or controlling. When a brain is out-of-shape—so it can’t sustain higher energy states—the result is inattention, lack of motivation, sadness and low energy and difficulty with language-based tasks.
We can measure how well different brain areas are able to operate independently when they’re working, how well they can idle between jobs, how well they can share information and jobs in complex tasks.
What we can Train
Our information is about energy patterns, and we can train them because we can measure them. The brain, like any complex chaotic system, tends to develop energy “habits”—stable patterns that make our moods, learning, performance, etc. stable over many years.
Training can steer the brain toward new patterns—support them as they stabilize—start a whole new track—with an energy brain that is quick and efficient in its activation—a brain that operates in idle mode for long periods, doing routine tasks, even performing at a peak level—a brain that has access to its feelings and memories—a stable system that is generally positive and aware of itself as well as the world outside.
Stable activation patterns are what we look for, see how they relate to the things the client wants to be able to do faster, better, more easily, then train them by shifting many different parts of the pattern at the same time. Change your own brain. Make your life come true. Not a bad outcome.