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Leading Personal Change Through Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

Embrace change. Harness the power of neuroplasticity.

Change is always possible. However, positive changes in our habits and thinking require intention, planning, and execution. Self-directed neuroplasticity is at the heart of personal transformation. It emphasizes the brain’s role in creating lasting change and our power to achieve our goals and help others do the same.

What is self-directed neuroplasticity? What does change look like in the brain?

In this article, we address these questions and walk through several practices that support lifelong change that impacts your life, career, and leadership.

The Importance of Personal Change for Growth and Progress

Often, personal change is an essential catalyst for personal growth and professional progress. Change represents overcoming limitations, whether maturing in consciousness, learning new skills, conquering physical weaknesses, or adopting a new mindset. These changes necessitate adjustments in behavior, thinking, mental and physical strength, and skill development. The brain’s capacity for self-directed neuroplasticity is pivotal in facilitating these changes.

Exploring Self-Directed Neuroplasticity


Change is possible because the brain is plastic. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change itself in response to experience, such as what we see, feel, and do. Without neuroplasticity, adapting to new experiences would be impossible. Imagine practicing a new skill for months without making the slightest progress. Or consider not being able to adjust to your daily routine after moving to a new city. Neuroplasticity allows your brain to reorganize and form new neural pathways after challenging experiences.

Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

From birth, our brains develop through new experiences. As we mature, we gain the power to choose our experiences, shaping our brains accordingly. Self-directed neuroplasticity* involves altering our brains through personal choices in beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. For instance, replacing an unwanted habit with a desirable one leads to new neural pathways that support the thinking and behaviors underlying the new habit. As the old habit diminishes, the neural pathways (i.e., brain circuits) that supported them weaken or disintegrate.

Embracing Change in the Brain

Neural Communication – Sculpting Change

Change in the brain corresponds to changes in information flow among brain cells (neurons). Neurons are similar to other cells in the body but have unique features that allow them to form complex neural circuits. Within each neural circuit, communication flows as electrical and chemical signals, experienced as perceptions, thoughts, and behaviors. This intricate dance of signals orchestrates the transformative process, rewiring neural pathways and sculpting the landscape of change in the brain.

Having touched on how neural communication shapes brain change, let’s now dig into the mechanics behind these transformations. Understanding different types of neuroplasticity helps demystify the complexity of personal change. From generating new neurons to rewiring connections, each type contributes uniquely to the process.

Types of Neuroplasticity

As new experiences and personal changes rewire brain circuits, various forms of neuroplasticity enable transformation:

  • Neurogenesis: Involving the creation of new neurons, neurogenesis enhances information flow within circuits while solidifying new habits and behaviors. Although more prevalent during early life, neurogenesis occurs in adults, specifically in certain brain regions.
  • Synaptic Plasticity: Taking place within existing neurons, synaptic plasticity strengthens or weakens connections based on experience. During synaptic plasticity, some connections weaken to the point of being replaced entirely by new ones. Others may be repurposed or adjust their capacity for electrical and chemical signaling.
  • Glial-Based Neuroplasticity: This type involves the brain’s supporting glial cells, which impact brain function and change by influencing the speed and efficiency of communications within brain circuits.

Change for Growth: Embracing Limitations

Our exploration thus far has focused on personal change through self-directed neuroplasticity. Yet, positive change reaches beyond simply overcoming weaknesses. It extends to a profound journey of embracing personal limitations and accepting one’s present circumstances. This perspective redefines change as a holistic process that includes healthy non-resistance, which is deeply empowering.

Incorporating this concept into the discussion of self-directed neuroplasticity enriches our understanding of personal change. Whether overcoming limitations, developing new skills, or embracing non-resistance, change remains a powerful force for growth.

Unlocking Your Leadership Potential

Practical Strategies For Lasting Change

As we conclude our exploration of self-directed neuroplasticity and its profound implications for personal change, let’s delve into practical strategies that executives and leaders can integrate into their lives to foster lifelong transformation. Each strategy includes three actionable steps designed to harness the principles of neuroscience and align with the concept of self-directed neuroplasticity, positioning you on a path of continuous improvement and success.


  1. Embrace Mindful Self-Awareness.  Cultivate the art of mindfulness and self-awareness. Self-awareness is at the center of personal development and progress. You gain insights into your patterns and triggers by tuning into your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without judgment. This heightened awareness empowers you to make intentional choices, enhancing your decision-making prowess.
  • Set aside time for regular introspection and self-reflection.
  • Practice meditation or deep breathing exercises to stay centered.
  • Keep a journal to track your thoughts and emotional responses.
  1. Set Goals with Neural Precision.  Incorporate neuroplasticity into your goal-setting process. Craft specific goals that involve learning new skills or adopting transformative mindsets. Your brain responds enthusiastically to well-defined goals, releasing chemicals that drive motivation. Regularly revisit and adjust your goals to foster ongoing neural growth.
  • Break down larger goals into smaller, achievable milestones.
  • Visualize your success and the journey toward your goals.
  • Seek feedback from mentors or peers to refine your goals.
  1. Pursue Continuous Learning.  Prioritize continuous learning and skill development. By actively seeking new knowledge and competencies, you engage neural pathways that promote adaptability and innovation. Challenge yourself to explore both within your industry and beyond, nurturing your capacity to lead effectively in an ever-evolving landscape.
  • Dedicate time each week to learn something new related to your field or personal interest.
  • Attend workshops, webinars, and conferences to expand your knowledge base.
  • Engage in cross-functional projects to broaden your skill set.
  1. Master Emotional Regulation.  Equip yourself with techniques to manage stress and regulate emotions. Chronic stress can impede neuroplasticity, but mindfulness practices, deep breathing, and physical exercise can counteract these effects. Enhance your cognitive flexibility by maintaining emotional equilibrium.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation to stay present and reduce stress.
  • Engage in regular physical activity to release endorphins and manage stress.
  • Develop a toolkit of coping strategies for handling challenging situations.
  1. Harness Feedback and Reflection.  Elevate your leadership by embracing feedback and engaging in thoughtful reflection. Regularly assess your decisions and actions to identify areas for growth. This practice guides you in making targeted adjustments, driving positive neural adaptations.
  • Seek constructive feedback from colleagues, mentors, and team members.
  • Allocate time each week to review your achievements and challenges.
  • Use reflective journaling to analyze your experiences and insights.
  1. Usher in Neuroscience-Informed Mindset Shifts.  Explore the dynamic potential of neuroplasticity and the malleability of the brain. Transition from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, enabling you to embrace challenges, learn from setbacks, and persistently strive for improvement. Embrace the power of transformation residing within your brain’s neural networks.
  • Cultivate awareness: Identify areas where a fixed mindset may limit your growth.
  • Challenge negative self-talk: Replace self-limiting beliefs with affirmations of change and possibility.
  • Embrace failure as a learning opportunity: View setbacks as steps toward mastery and resilience.
  1. Embrace Non-Resistance to Present Circumstances.  Amidst the pursuit of change, there’s an often overlooked strategy that holds profound power—embracing non-resistance to present circumstances. Acknowledging and accepting the current situation without resistance can be a source of inner peace and a springboard for growth.
  • Practice mindfulness to observe thoughts and feelings without judgment.
  • Overcome limitations (especially the ones you can’t change) by surrendering to or accepting them.
  • Cultivate gratitude to shift focus toward positive aspects of current circumstances.

Incorporating these practices into your leadership journey will empower you and foster a culture of continuous improvement within your sphere of influence. By integrating principles of self-directed neuroplasticity with these actionable strategies, you have the tools to lead and inspire change, growth, and success.

*The term “self-directed neuroplasticity” was first coined by Jeffrey Schwartz

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