Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles For years scientists believed that the brain was static, unchanging and locked. But our understanding has changed drastically to the point where we now see the brain as plastic and constantly changing. But what if I told you that simply thinking could not only the way your brain works but its physical shape and structure as well? It turns out this is exactly what happens. From a neuroscientific standpoint imagining an action and doing it require the same motor and sensory programs in the brain. For example, if you were to close your eyes and imagine the letter "B" the primary visual cortex lights up in the same way it does when you look at the letter on the screen. Take a moment and imagine yourself writing out your signature with your dominant hand. Chances are the amount of time it takes you to simply imagine doing it is similar to how long it actually takes to write it out. Try doing the same thing with your non dominant hand and it actually takes you longer to write and imagine. How is this relevant? Well because imagination and action are actually integrated and engage the same neural pathways, practicing one actually influences the other. One fascinating study took two groups and had them practice piano for two hours a day. Except one group was only allowed to use mental practice, they couldn't touch the piano but would sit in front of it and imagine practicing. The surprising result, the exact same physical changes took place in the motor cortex of both groups. And after three days their accuracy in playing was the exact same, beyond five days the physical practice group did begin to excel faster but the imagination group, when given the chance to practice physically, was able to catch up to their skill level quickly. Perhaps more incredible is an experiment which used imagination in an effort to strengthen muscles. Both groups did the same figure muscle exercises for four weeks though one group simply did it mentally. Those who actually did the physical exercise increased their strength by thirty percent while those who imagined doing it increased their muscle strength by twenty two percent. This is because the neurons responsible for the movement instruction were still being used and strengthened, resulting in increased strength when the muscles actually contracted. So while your thoughts don't have some mystical or magical power, mental practice is an effective way to prepare for a physical skill. Each thought actually changes the structure and function of your brain by affecting the neurons at the microscopic level. Though as much as we wish you could sit there and become the next Mozart, it won't happen without a lot of hard physical work, but a little imagination never hurts. This episode of a AsapSCIENCE is supported by audible.com, the leading provider of audio books, with over one hundred thousand downloadable titles across all types of literature. This episode was inspired by the book "The Brain That Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge. You can download this audiobook or another of your choice for free at audible.com/asap. Special thanks to audible for making these videos possible and offering you a free audio book at audible.com/asap, and subscribe for more weekly science videos.