Tag Archives: Aging

Monday Morning Moment – Neuroplasticity – Resetting Your Brain for Success at Work and Life

Photo Credit: Pixabay

You know that shocking experience when you are driving to a known destination and then get lost in your thoughts? At some point, you snap back to attention and wonder, “How did I get here, I wasn’t even thinking about it?!” That is neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. It is an amazing capability we all have and can be nurtured and utilized throughout our lives. Yes, “old dogs CAN learn new tricks“.

What is this phenomenon?

Mike Torres, of Refocuser, gives an excellent definition, as well as an explanation of function, in his piece Neuroplasticity: Your Brain’s Amazing Ability to Form New Habits.

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to restructure itself after training or practice. An example of how neuroplasticity works: when you view the brains of people who frequently practice playing the violin under fMRI (functional MRI) they appear to have developed a larger area of their brain devoted to mapping their fingers.  Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This change is directly related to the quantity and the quality of the practice they’re performing – their brains are adapting in very real and tangible ways unbeknownst to them... The more practice you accumulate, the more ingrained or grooved the pathways become.  Of course the inverse happens as well: if those pathways aren’t utilized, the space will be used by other pathways needing room to grow. Use it or lose it! …Your brain can change based on repeated experience…People of any age have the ability to learn new things and form new habits. Mike Torres, Refocuser

Watching Nathan play intricate, complicated runs on his classical guitar boggles my mind. How can he think that fast? It’s lots of practice that causes the brain to connect to the hands, and those difficult pieces get “under his fingers” almost without thinking.

Years ago a friend gave us this book Never Too Late by John Holt. In his “musical life story”, Holt describes how he learned to play the cello in his 40s. We were encouraged by this during a time we moved to Egypt and learned Arabic in mid-life…when language-learning is supposed to be especially difficult.

I love neuroplasticity but it gives me hope, in getting older, of keeping skills and developing new ones, even as an aging person…unless I give in to dumbed-down practices excusing myself for the same reasons of “getting too old”.

When my older brother suffered a stroke, it was neuroplasticity and the repeated efforts of his medical and therapy team that got him back on his feet. He finally “repeatedly practiced” his way back to independence. The personality changes seemed more ingrained, however, they changed, too, as he exchanged his anger and bitterness for a hopefulness and longing for healthy, loving relationships. As he refused to give into anger and chose soft responses, his personality seriously changed over time…with conscious that eventually turned unconscious practice.

How does all this apply to us in the workplace and life, in general? We are confronted at times with a situation that confounds us – a new uncomfortable skillset, an unpredictable relationship, or an unfamiliar decision-making process. Neuroplasticity helps us to not just give up on mastering either a new work process or a complicated interpersonal situation.

Debbie Hampton has written an excellent summary piece on this that will help kick-start any new habit formation necessary for us to continue to do excellently in our work. She was influenced by Dr. Michael Merzenich’s work published in his book Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life. I have listed below Merzenich’s 10 elements of how we can rewire our brain. You will find Hampton’s summary on each very instructive. [I comment briefly on each but don’t miss what she says in her article.]

10 Core Principles for Remodeling Your Brain

1. Change is mostly limited to  those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it. We have to want to learn and change. If we give up, stay resigned to the status quo, or remain fed-up, change will not happen. Want change!

2. The harder you try, the more you’re motivated, the more alert you are, and the better (or worse)  the potential outcome, the bigger the brain change. Focus and persistence or key to mastery.

3. What actually changes in the brain are the strengths of the connections of neurons that are engaged together, moment by moment, in time. Practice strengthens pathways for behavior. Whether it’s learning a new computer system or developing a different way of communicating with a boss…practice hard-wires.

4. Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to cell cooperation, which is crucial for increasing reliability. I see this in musicians who live-stream and can read listener chats, respond to them, and continue playing all at the same time. Crazy.

5. The brain also strengthens its connections between teams of neurons representing separate moments of successive things that reliably occur in serial time. This is definitely the mechanism that gets us to our destination when we stop thinking about where we’re going.

6. Initial changes are temporary. Habit formation takes time, and somehow the brain interprets whether the change is vital. Amazing.

7. The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways and involving precisely the same processes that control changes achieved through interactions with the external world. At the simplest level, this is the mechanism of how we “talk ourselves through” a situation. Or when an athlete goes through his routine in his mind before he’s back out on the track or in the pool.

8. Memory guides and controls most learning. Our brain actually helps us to remember what we did well and discards what we didn’t.

9. Every movement of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize — and reduce the disruptive power of — potentially interfering backgrounds or “noise.” The more we practice, either a physical skill or a way of thinking through a problem, we actually get better at it because somehow the brain reduces the background noise (which can include insecurity, fear of failure or self-doubt).

10. Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is positive ones. Dr. Merzenich warns us, as we get older that we “use it or lose it” by our own decisions to stop learning and mastering new skills and behaviors.

Photo Credit: Commons Wikimedia

How are you using neuroplasticity to help you continue to grow in your work and personal life? Trevor Blake encourages us to set the tone of the day positively and don’t defect from that. Using self-defeating language can blur our focus and mental capacity for mastery. Read more of his excellent counsel here.

As we age, or give in to “what is” at the moment (tracks greased by depression sometimes, or perceived lack of ability or opportunity), we may not realize the great positive effects of neuroplasticity. However, the good news is that we can keep learning and changing and mastering what work and life and relationships bring our way. It’s never too late.

 

Neuroplasticity: Your Brain’s Amazing Ability to Form New Habits – Mike Torres

How to Rewire Your Brain for Success – Trevor Blake

Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life – Trevor Blake

Brain HQ Website

How Does Neuroplasticity Work – an Infographic

Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story – John Holt

Deadly: Brain on Multitasking – Bukunmi Adewumi

Toxic Thoughts – Dr. Caroline Leaf

5 Friday Faves – On Studying Your Spouse, Aging, Taking Criticism, Daily Routines, & Black History Month

Blog - Friday Faves

Hello, Friday. I don’t know about you but this has been a week of highs and lows in this world of mine. Hard news in some situations washed over by exquisite answers to prayer in other situations. As happens often with God, in the quiet of this morning, a favorite, heart-lifting passage in the Bible came up in my reading.

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”Isaiah 26:3-4

Even the Bible verses atop my facing journal pages this morning were like an anthem from God that all will be well. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you.”John 14:27 and “My times are in Your hands, Lord.”Psalm 31:15

With that intro to welcoming Friday this week, here are five of my favorite finds – all from the internet this week, although I did have a lot of sweetness in the real, as well.

1) Studying Your Spouse – Michael Hyatt welcomed Jackie Bledsoe as guest blogger on his website this week. Bledsoe writes very winsomely about how he learned to study his wife. He talks about how we, too often, think we know enough (relating to any field of study and work, ministry, marriage and family). Regarding his marriage, he observed: “We were both growing, just not together. My interests were changing and my wife, Stephana, didn’t always notice. Stephana’s needs were changing, but I was oblivious to them. Finally, we reached a point where we felt we didn’t really know each other. That was a scary discovery, one that you may be able to relate to. You may know the ins and outs of your business or ministry like nobody else. But maybe you don’t know the ins and outs of your spouse like nobody else. It may be time for you to enroll in the continuing education about your spouse.” Bledsoe lists 3 ways to get an advanced degree in your spouse: 1) Do new things together; 2) Take notes: and 3) Use your calendar. Read more here.Blog - Friday Faves - Marriage - DaddyshangoutPhoto Credit: Daddy’s Hangout

2) Aging – a Video – I came across a video this week that really got me thinking about how I view aging. It is entitled The Wall. It is the work of Aroha Philanthropies, an organization “devoted to the transformative power of the arts and creativity, inspiring vitality in those over 55, joy in children and youth, and humanity in adults with mental illness”. Blog - Aging - ioagingPhoto Credit: IoAging.org

The video begins with two elderly persons looking at the imposing face of a wall filled with the words that terrify most of us about getting older. Then as the video progresses, the images change to  more engaging and lovely words that depict what can be part of our experience moving from youth to mid-life to older life. Through creativity and the arts from childhood throughout our years, we might see a very different future, with growing older being our “encore years”. Something to think about for all of us…and especially for our young creatives – to see these “old ones” as valuable peers…just a bit farther down the same road.

3) Taking Criticism – Dan Cumberland, writer and photographer in Seattle, Washington, writes about responding to a scathing comment he received once on one of his blogs. Complete with foul offensive language. In his article This Guy Really Hates Me (How to Take Criticism). In his post, he lists 5 guidelines of how to handle criticism:

1) Is there truth in it?; 2) Is it affirmed by others?; 3) Is the source credible?; 4) What are the source’s motives?; and 5) What can I learn here? Then Dan talked about how he dealt with his critic.

We all receive criticism and also, if we’re honest, dole it out ourselves. Hear Dan’s counsel: “When you receive criticism and negative feedback there’s a needed balance. Don’t write it off, but also be careful not to let it bring you down too much. Work to find the truth. When you don’t understand, ask for clarification.”

When we are offered criticism, take it – as a gift. Do with it what is helpful. Don’t fall into the trap of returning harm for what you perceived as harmful. You want to be better than that.Blog - Taking Criticism - Feedback - quotesgramPhoto Credit: Quotesgram

4) Daily Routines Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, wrote a fascinating post on Mozart’s Daily Routine – How a day is composed in the hours between sleep o’clock and symphony o’clock. Routines are a great help for me to organize life and truly accomplish what I hope to accomplish. I’ve written on routines, habit change, and productivity previously. Popova’s article (and others she linked in her post) offers a glimpse into the daily life of greatness. It was inspiring and refreshing. Early in Mozart’s life, he went without employment but maintained deep discipline in his composing of music. Later, as his popularity rose, he compromised his sleep in order to continue writing. Mozart’s life was legend for unhealthy choices, and he struggled at times with deep depression. The lesson for us is in a daily routine that helped him, whether poor or privileged, to produce magnificent music that continues timeless in its beauty.

Blog - Daily Routines Photo Credit: Tito Goldstein

5) Black History Month – Phillip Holmes wrote a great piece, on Black History Month, for Desiring God. It is entitled More Tough Skin and Tender Hearts – How to Prepare for Conversations on Ethnic Harmony. He talks in a frank and loving manner about evangelicalism and ethnic harmony. Holmes urges us to have real conversations across races and ideologies, rather than white-with-white (or black-with-black) discussion with those already in agreement with us. If we wrestle with the struggle, across racial, religious, and political lines, we might actually come to a place of true reconciliation.

I want to have the kinds of conversations he encourages: “As we engage in complicated conversations about racism, be sober-minded rather than drunk with hatred, frustration, and annoyance. Embrace humility and love those you disagree with. But continue to pursue truth and justice as these two are defined in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible must remain the basis for why we believe what we believe and a careful study of it reveals that it has much to say about ethnicity and injustice…These conversations are complex but necessary and we need men and women who can sit down and have hard conversations considering the other more significant.”

Read his full post. I do want to quote one more vital point Holmes covered beautifully: “As a church, whether we as individuals are white, black, brown, red, or yellow, Christians have to constantly remind ourselves of our primary allegiance. If you are a child of the king, adopted into the household of faith, you are Christian first. I am one million times more Christian than I am black. My brown skin may be what you first notice about me, but by God’s grace, my Christian faith is what you will remember… I count it a privilege to be physically dressed by my creator in such a beautiful skin tone…but I will forever check others and myself when I notice our ethnicity is taking precedent over our heavenly citizenship.”

Also read Kimberly Davis’ Black History Month and the Common Language of Christ.

Vector Illustration for black history month including names, time periods and what each person did. See others in this series. Makes a great poster large print.

Photo Credit: Teach Hub

What were some of your finds or favorite things of this week? I would love to hear about them. Have a safe and joyful weekend!