Tag Archives: language learning

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 – Christmas YouTube Videos, Peace on Earth – Good Will Toward All, Tim Tebow Miracle, Christmas Ad & Language of Love, and Mary’s Song

Happy Friday! We are now in that strange time warp of December – holding on tight as the days as fly past! Still, we will not be vanquished as we seize the moments to savor the joy and meaning of this Christmas season. Here are some of my favorite finds of this week to give wonder, make you chuckle, or just to enjoy over coffee on your break today. Blessings!

1) Christmas YouTube Videos – What are some of your favorites? (Please post in Comments)

2) Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward All – There’s something about Christmas that gentles the hearts of people toward each other. Ceasefires in the many wars around the world…kindnesses to strangers…reaching out to those in hard places. Situations when we see the face of Jesus in those who don’t necessarily believe as we do. Here is a story about a restaurant serving homeless and elderly on Christmas Day…lovely. (Jesus taught us this and lived this- Mark 12:30-31)Photo Credit: Independent

3) Tim Tebow Miracle – As talented and relentless an athlete as Tim Tebow is, his career has had many detours and disappointments. Yet, he is never disappointed in his God. In his book, Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms, he shares how God…this big faithful God…showed up for him, time and time again. In an interview with Harry Connick, Jr., he talked about the game as the Denver Broncos quarterback when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs (2012).  Amazing story. Read it here or watch in video below.

4) Christmas Ad & Language of Love – In my 40s, I learned Arabic… Living in Cairo, Egypt, at the time, I wanted to be able to communicate to my neighbors and friends. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done…but I did it, not for any intellectual satisfaction, but out of love. This Christmas ad out of Poland (but in English) reminds me of those days:

5) Mary’s SongFrancesca Battistelli wrote a song “Be Born in Me” of how it must have been for the Virgin Mary on receiving the word from God that she would carry and bear the Messiah for the whole world. The message to my own heart is give space for the Messiah as well. Beautiful.

As you go through this day and the weekend…be safe…enjoy the best of this season…and save space for the wonder of the Christ child…and the Messiah Himself…to be home in your heart forever.

353 Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus Christ

5 Friday Faves – a Language Learning Guide, a Tribute to Jeannie Elliff, a Friend’s Blog, an Infographic, and Singing Contractors

Blog - Friday Faves

1. A 12-Step Program for Language Learning – 12 Rules for Learning Foreign Languages in Record Time — The Only Post You’ll Ever Need by Tim Ferriss. Besides English, I’ve learned Spanish, Arabic, and a bit of French – through a variety of learning methods. This blog post with Benny Lewis is the best counsel for anyone embarking on learning a foreign language. He offers 12 rules for learning a foreign language and includes several links to more resources. Really helpful! Maybe I’ll learn Mandarin one day…

Blog - Language Learning - Tim Ferriss on Twitter

Photo Credit: Tim Ferriss; Twitter.com

2. A Radio Program – Tribute to Jeannie Elliff  Our friend, Jeannie Elliff, died on July 20 after a long battle with breast cancer. She was a young 69 years old. Her husband, Tom, and all four of her children spoke at her memorial service. It was the most beautiful service I’ve ever seen honoring a woman who loved God and all of us so completely. Revive Our Hearts Radio is doing a two-part tribute (October 1 & 2) entitled Faithful to the Finish: The Life of Jeannie Elliff. Nancy Leigh DeMoss moderates the tribute, using audioclips from the memorial service. You can listen via the website and the transcript of the program is included in the link.Jeannie & Tom in chemo clinicJeannie & Tom in Chemo Clinic – Photo Credit: Facebook.com

3. A Friend’s Blog on Love – My friend, Marlo, writes a blog entitled Pressing On which chronicles her family’s journey to life after the death of their daughter/sister, Anna. This piece focuses on the sixth verse of 1 Corinthians 13 (also known as the “Love Chapter” of the Bible).

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. – 1 Corinthians 13:6

I never really thought about this verse until I read her blog. It’s an important truth and Jesus lived it lovingly. As are we to do so as well.

“He was both/and. He was holy and he was loving. His holiness was not a barrier to people because it was paired with love. Jesus met people where they were. He knew their sins and loved them anyway. He did not rejoice in their wrongdoing, but showed them a better way. If we are going to be like him, we have to approach people the same way.” – Marlo

Blog - Love - 1 Corinthians 13

Photo Credit: Pinterest.com

4. An Infographic20 Common Ways We Make Bad Decisions. I love infographics, being a visual learner. This one is fascinating as it lists out the many factors that lead us to making bad decisions. Which ones are you the most vulnerable to?

Blog - InfographicPhoto Credit: DailyInfographic.com

5. Singing Contractors – Have you ever taken advantage of an empty room to belt out a song? It sounds so good, right? Well, not as good, maybe as these guys can make an empty room sound. I don’t know how The Singing Contractors got started singing together, while working, but I’m glad they did. You are watching the beginning of a YouTube phenomenon.

What are some of your favorites from this week? I’d love to hear them.

Stop…and Then Go – Connect with Internationals

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For many years, our family lived overseas. When work takes people out of their home countries into other cultures, we can embrace the experience or insulate ourselves from the experience. I loved living overseas. The people who invited us into their lives were some of the kindest, most generous people we’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Our family tried to live very intentionally, learning all we could about the ebb and flow of life of each new culture and what mattered to the people there.

Our friendships grew deep, even when we didn’t share the same religion or the same traditions, we lived life alongside each other. We learned from them and they learned from us. Now, working back in the U.S., I find that we’re on the flip-side of that experience. We have many, many internationals living in our city, and some are our friends. They are here for school or for work or for refuge from war or other disasters. Just as local people overseas reached out to us with help and hospitality, we want to reach out to these internationals who are now our neighbors here.

Rachel Pieh Jones, in her blog Djibouti Jones, lists out 20 things expats should stop doing if they are going to really thrive in their host countries (where they’re currently working or studying). I was intrigued by this list and saw how some of Rachel Jones’ observations would be helpful when applied here, by us in our home countries. Out of her list of 20 “stop’s” – things to stop doing in order to make a foreign place more your home – I adapted 10  (with her permission) to help us be less “foreign” to internationals/immigrants – those who are among us gradually making this country their home (even for a season). As we are willing to stretch out our lives to truly welcome internationals in, we can help make it possible for them to feel at home here (for a season…or a lifetime).

10 Things We Should Stop Doing if We Desire to Build Relationships with Internationals

  1. Stop complaining. We complain a lot, and often about first world problems. We also too often complain about peoples of other nationalities (both those in our home country and in their own). If we truly desire to demonstrate the love of Christ to them, we look for what is good (about our own country, and theirs).  Focus on what is good about both their country and our own. Look for the common denominators that build bridges.
  2. Stop putting off language learning. You may not have any ambition about learning another language, and for sure, most internationals living here for school or work are doing what they can to master English. Still it is a delight for any of us to hear even a few words in our own language. Rachel Jones talks about the great impact you can have by learning even a few words: “Make their day by putting in the time, effort, and laughter to honor their language.”
  3. Stop hanging out with only other Americans. Internationals, and especially immigrants, will find each other, and tend to also gather just among themselves. However, if you reach out to a neighbor or colleague or fellow student, you will, more often than not, be well-received. Strike up a conversation and gently ask questions about them and their country and their culture. You may be opening the door to a friendship beneficial to you both. Visit your new international neighbor (bearing in mind possible cultural constraints, but don’t let those keep you from extending hospitality). Are there immigrant vendors/proprietors in your neighborhood? Call them by name. “Celebrate holidays with gusto”, Jones says, (both yours and theirs).
  4. Stop your addiction to social media. There’s a lot to be said about what we gain from social media. Eventually, however, to really engage with international/immigrant neighbors or coworkers, you have to get up, go out, and meet them where they are. Just this week I celebrated the discovery of an authentic Japanese noodle restaurant with a young Japanese friend. She just graduated from her university here and, with no family in the US, we celebrated together as family.
  5. Stop taking yourself so seriously. To pursue cross-cultural relationships, you will make mistakes and sometimes misunderstand social cues from an international friend. You will make mistakes, sure, but your friend knows your heart. People who don’t make mistakes in international relationships simply don’t have them..at least at any deep, constant level.
  6. Stop ignoring beggars.  This may seem a strange point in this list. Rachel Jones’ family has made their second home in a very impoverished African country. If you live in a US city, you have probably encountered beggars. They are most probably Americans, not internationals. Still beggars are found in most cultures. How to respond to beggars is a challenge for us all. It may be a case-by-case decision, but seek the Lord about a Biblical response to beggars. Beggars remind us all of how Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” Your immigrant/international friends will take note of how you respond to beggars. In her blog, Jones said, “That doesn’t mean to start giving to them; decide your own convictions on that. But look at them and talk to them. Ask their names and listen to their stories.”
  7. Stop ignoring the international press and international events[observed locally].  To often we focus on the news reports that only affect us. As you develop friendships with internationals, seek out news items that affect them or their families back home. Participate in their cultural events or festivals when possible.
  8. Stop shopping only at the more high-end stores. Of course, there are internationals who are very wealthy and shop in those stores, too. This is just to keep in mind for the others in your lives. Find where your immigrant friends shop and how they manage to feed and clothe their families. You may learn how to better, or more creatively, do the same for your own family.
  9. Stop being afraid. Examine your heart about what makes you afraid of being in the lives of internationals. Is it the language difference? Their culture? Are you afraid you might offend? Or you afraid a friendship might be too time-consuming? Or will it become awkward if they need jobs or a visa? Or is it an issue of love – you are not even sure how you feel about them being here? With God’s help, deal with the fear and allow Him to work in your heart to build bridges, rather than walls.
  10. Stop thinking you can solve the(ir) country’s problems.  I heard a very strange news report this week that enemy nations were accusing each other of killing their own people and blaming the other side.  We live in strange times, and it’s difficult to know really who to believe about politics or the world’s problems. We all have opinions about how nations can improve the situation for their peoples, but very few of us are in a position to make that happen. Praying and loving, in Jesus’ name, are our best tools to help our friends as they look back “home” and long for things to be better there.

A Bonus: Rachel Pieh Jones ended her list of 20 Stops with:

20.  Stop forgetting to call your mom. Good advice for us all.

I hope you found this helpful. Jones’ blog for expats reminded me of how we’re all pilgrims on this journey. Whatever we can do to help and understand each other will make community for people who very much need community…and in demonstrating the love of Jesus to these immigrants/internationals, they gain much more than just our friendship.

20 Things Expats Need to Stop Doing