An interesting and recent development in the study of the human mind is known as brain plasticity. There is a fairly good wiki page on it here.

In a nutshell, brain plasticity means that when we learn or experience something new the function and structure of our brain changes. And this brain development can happen at any age. It has been called the most important discovery of the twentieth century by some. This knowledge completely changes what was previously thought about the brain. And I believe this has both practical and religious implications.

On the practical side, maybe there is something to all those self-help books. Perhaps cognitive behavioral approaches to solving problems can really work. Excuses like, ‘I was born this way’, or ‘God made me this way’, may not hold much water in the long run. If, through hard work, discipline, practice, focus, patience, etc., we can actually bring about change in how our brain functions, then real change and self-improvement in the individual is possible.

This all rings true for me. I believe I have experienced such subtle change in who I am over the last few years. I have been able to overcome panic attacks without medication. I have also been able to improve my self confidence and attitude with some training and practice. This new idea of brain plasticity should bring hope to all those who desire to become the type of person that they want to be.

All this has religious application as well. It could change or reinforce how we think of the principle of repentance. Mormonism seems to me to take a more pragmatic view of repentance than some other religions. Of course, Mormons believe that a forgiveness of sins is only available through the atonement of Jesus Christ. In addition, Mormons believe that reforming our behavior is a necessary part of the repentance process.

This idea of brain plasticity seems to tie in nicely with repentance. As the sinner acknowledges his sin, and changes his behavior, he becomes a new person, with a changed mind. As the bad habits are left behind, over time, the very desire to return to them can vanish.

The idea of brain plasticity does not make such fundamental change any easier. Forming new communication paths and patterns may take several weeks, or even months. It will take faith, courage, and a strong will to make any of this happen. But the fact that the structure and function of our brains can change as we stop bad habits and replace them with better ones fills me with hope.

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