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 – Zelda on Guitar, Community, Tim Tebow, Podcasts, and Creatives

Happy Friday! It’s been one of those weeks that has made Friday a “Whew, got through it!” kind of day. An anticipated freeze tonight draws me outside and to take in all the early forsythia, red bud and tulip magnolia blossoms in their current glory. Such a beautiful time of the year…this mild winter/early spring combination.

For your enjoyment – should you end up inside and snuggled in front of a fire – my favorite finds of the week:

1) CommunityGrace abounds in genuine community. Don’t we all hope to have a work team that cares about us, neighbors that watch out for each other, and family that looks past our foibles and loves us anyway? True community happens when our focus is on the other…the friend, the neighbor, the coworker. In our strength, we come alongside the weaker ones and take turn-about in our weak times to lean on those who are strong. I can’t describe community very well but I know what it’s like to be in real-life deep community. Someone who has described it well is Cliff Jordan, teaching pastor of Movement Church, Richmond, Virginia. His message from Romans 15:1-6 inspired and affirmed the reality of community if we are willing to go after it and extend ourselves toward others in this way. Listen here to the message: Grace On Display – Community.Photo Credit: MoveRichmond

2) Zelda on Guitar – For both you videogame and classical guitar music aficionados, you’re in for a real treat. Nintendo has launched a new gaming system (Nintendo Switch) and a new version of The Legend of Zelda (Breath of the Wild). In celebration of this launch for all you gamers who grew up with Zelda, classical guitarist Nathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar has arranged a Zelda medley.

Not much of a videogame fan, but I am a classical guitar enthusiast. The soundtracks of these games are rendered beautifully on guitar. Watch here or click on video below.

3) Tim Tebow – In the U.S., most every adult out there knows the name and something of the career and character of Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow. I’m a big fan. In particular, I’m a fan of the winsomeness and determination of the man, more than his athletic prowess. Tebow first came on my radar watching the film, Everything in Between, about how he trained and persevered, culminating in becoming a first round draft pick for NFL football. Then I watched his career in the NFL, and then his detour into baseball, sportscasting and commentary. Tim Tebow is one of the hardest working, determined, disciplined, and persevering athletes out there today.

Photo Credit: Tim Tebow

More than his success in athletics, his determination to make a difference in life stands out the most. He shows up in all kinds of situations, serving and showing love to those who might think they are forgotten. Many celebrities and other wealthy benefactors have foundations, as does Tim. Why he does what he does, he shares below.

“I want to be someone that was known for bringing faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.”

Tebow strives for excellence in all he does, and he brings that to bear on the lives of those who may not have the same opportunities as he does. So for people who question his athletic career, walk awhile in these shoes.

Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms – Tim Tebow

4) Podcasting – Like in every other professional field, there is actually a conference for podcasters. I came late to the entertainment/educational medium of podcasting. Now, however, there are some who have won my heart and car-time. Below is a short list of my favorites:

  • The Popcast – Knox McCoy and Julie Golden post a weekly conversation all about pop culture. I just discovered them this week and find them funny, engaging, and even thought-provoking. Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes with her.Photo Credit: The Popcast
  • 5 Leadership Questions or 5LQ – Todd Adkins and Barnabas Piper are co-hosts of 5LQ. Their focus is on Christian leaders but it’s not just about church; their guests include business and other professional leaders. The same five questions guide their discussion:
    • Who are you learning from?
    • What is the main point of emphasis for your leadership team (or self) right now?
    • What obstacles are you currently facing in leadership, either in your organization or personally?
    • What does leadership in your home look like?
    • What would you tell your 20-year-old self about preparing to lead?

    I’m personally kind of a leadership junkie and can tell you I always learn from these guys and their guests.

  • The Podcast – Carey Nieuwhof This writer, conference leader, and pastor does a weekly podcast on leadership as well. Nieuwhof tackles some of the hard issues of leadership. Whether you lead in a Christian or other organization, you will learn and enjoy his meaty and sometimes funny content and stories.

25 Best Podcast Episodes Ever – David Haglund & Rebecca Onion

The 50 Best Podcasts of 2016 – Laura Jane Standley & Eric McQuade

5) Creatives – Using the word “creative” as a noun doesn’t come naturally for me, because I believe in the innate creative abilities of all of us. However, some “creatives” stand out. Writer and podcaster Jeff Goins defines them best in this way:

“A creative is an artist. Not just a painter or musician or writer. She is someone who sees the world a little differently than others.

A creative is an individual. He is unique, someone who doesn’t quite fit into any box.

A creative is a thought leader. He influences people not necessarily through personality but through his innate gifts and talents.

And what, exactly, does a creative do?

A creative creates art…She sings to sing, for the pure joy of making music. And she paints to paint. (And so on…)

A creative colors outside the lines. On purpose. In so doing, she shows the world a whole new picture they never would have otherwise seen.

A creative breaks the rules. And as a result, he sets a new standard to follow.

Why we need creatives

The truth is that we need more creatives in positions of influence — to color the world with beauty and life.Jeff Goins

Nathan Mills, of Beyond the Guitar, is a creative…one of my favorites, clearly.

Writer and woodworker Kevin Prewett is both a friend and creative. In fact, I didn’t know how creative he was until this week when I saw some of his woodworking.

Pipe and Sage – Woodwork – Kevin Prewett – Wood and Words

Another favorite creative of mine is Andrew Morgan. His documentary series Untold America is a timely, much-needed look at today’s America…with the potential to bridge a gap between us as a diverse and sometimes polarized people.

Untold America Series

These are my favorite finds of the week. Please share yours in the Comment section below. Have a safe, refreshing weekend…and stay warm.

This Quiet Girl – To Know Her Is To Love Her, and I Know Her Very Well

30 years ago, I knew this would be the day. Our baby was coming. It was still the wee hours of the morning, but labor wakes us. I let Dave sleep until it got to a place that I knew we probably needed to go. It was a windy pre-dawn drive to the hospital. That first day of March.

“It’s a girl!” How would I have known then how much she would change our lives? We had an inkling when, just days into parenting, and my hormones all over the place, I looked up at Dave, with her in my lap and tears in my eyes. “What if something were to happen to her?” – asked the new mom on the edge. Dave brought me back to myself when he said, “Look at how much joy she’s brought us in just these few days. We treat each day as precious…” It was something like that. He doesn’t remember, and all I can say is that each day has been precious.

This quiet girl spent her preschool years in East Tennessee enjoying friends from the neighborhood and church. She didn’t require much entertaining. The world of her imagination was rich and deep. She welcomed two little brothers in that time.

As their big sister, she created elaborate make-believe games, and they loved following her lead in play. This, of course, would end in time, as teen years would find all three off doing more of their own thing. Fun times together and shared memories.

Other times, the boys thought of her more like an old aunt…a third parent…rather than sister. Fortunately that season passed with them all still friends.

This quiet girl has known God since she was tiny. She’s always been an old soul, and that sensibleness and understanding about life informed her grasp of God. She isn’t perfect, by any means, but she carries into adulthood a faith that both anchors her and moves her toward His purposes.

She loves music and for all her life she has filled our home with singing or piano playing. I don’t know if that influenced her guitarist or harpist brothers. Their music has just been a joy…for the most part…our musical tastes have all had their own journeys. Remembering her high school girl band days still makes me smile. She plays the radio now more than the piano, and she isn’t pursuing a choir or praise team experience…but I hope she does again one day.

When we pulled her out of her lovely small-town life, along with her brothers, to move to Africa, this quiet girl took it in stride. We were always grateful to see the hand of God in these adjustments. There were tears…great, gushing cries over missing friends and family and grieving precious things left behind (even her dog once)…my heart would almost break over those tears. Then, like the sun breaking through storm clouds, she would give in to laughter. That would break the tension for all of us…that crazy-sweet laughter from a tear-drenched face. Her own wrestling through the many moves of our lives had to have helped our boys do the same. She helped us, for sure.

Making friends was sometimes challenging for this one whom we bounced around from country to country. Always having to start over was hard for her. She’s not one to push in or draw attention to herself. How thankful we were for the friends who opened up to friendship with this quiet girl. These are some of her most cherished friendships. When she does feel comfortable enough to be herself, she probably surprises people with her resoluteness, strong opinions, and deep loyalties. These are actually things I appreciate about this quiet girl. She is not going away. As we get older, it is a tremendous comfort to know that she has settled that. She will be there, God willing. With this one, you get life-long friendships and forever love.

When this quiet girl went back to the US for college, we would miss her terribly. Our home re-configured and the boys became the young men of the house. Her visits home were dear for all of us…as she perched around wherever we had landed at home and told us stories of life at school. I never tired of those stories.

After college, she would teach for several years (both inner city and county schools). Lots of crying followed by laughter in those days. The friendships that came out of both college and teaching are precious to her…lots of battle scars and victories to share there.

This quiet girl fell in love. She never really dated in high school. We as her parents were glad she, or the boys, didn’t suffer serial broken hearts. To find one so right for her as the quiet young man she married gladdened our hearts for her…and for us all.

Then she finally got a much-longed-for sister when one of her brothers married (and another when her husband’s brother married).

…and our first grandchild has this quiet girl as mommy.

[No pics of this little one on the blog yet. One day… The grandparents, I can tell you, are smitten with this little one not-so-quiet as the parents.]

I guess it’s a 30th birthday that made me want to write about this quiet girl. To know her is to love her, and I know her very well.

So Sweet Girl, Dear Daughter of ours, when you read this blog (and you do, so thanks for that), on this your 30th birthday, hope you’re having a Beautiful Day and know how Priceless you are to God Himself and to all who know and love you.