Tag Archives: repetition

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

“I’m the Boss” – Dad and Alzheimer’s – A Strange Companionship

2015 June Trip to Georgia to See Dad & Family 004After I punched in the security code (to keep residents in rather than us out), the heavy door released its lock allowing entrance to the memory care unit, First thing, I could hear Dad before even seeing him. He was sitting on the sofa, holding the toy he loves most – a dinosaur given to him by his daughter-in-law. [He thinks it’s a kangaroo, and, in fairness, it sort of looks like one]. He was staring off, repeating over and over, “I’m the boss. I’m the boss.”

The staff and other residents around this common room seemed completely unscathed by his declaration. A “stranger” entering the room broke the normalcy of the atmosphere. I’m sure they knew it made me uncomfortable to see my dad “lost” in some other consciousness.  He has Alzheimer’s.

I’ve written about Dad’s life with Alzheimer’s before (here). He was admitted into an assisted living facility only four-and-a-half months ago. He continues to do very well, despite life-threatening situations (blocked carotid arteries, metastatic colon cancer, and now Alzheimer’s). He amazes me, really. It is obvious, from visit to visit, that his disease is taking its toll. Yet there’s so much of Dad there still, and we are all so grateful.

A couple of months ago, Dad could still have conversations with us. He needed prodding, but the stories would come – fascinating, detailed stories of his growing up years and ours. I have always loved his stories. And the funniest jokes. Even when they weren’t funny, he enjoyed them so much, it made them funny.

Dad talking to Dwane April 2015

In recent weeks, conversations are becoming shorter, more of a chore. He still has great, comforting memories but the fire of remembering has to be stoked considerably. As far as short-term memory goes, he may not remember what he had for supper an hour ago, but he remembers so many other things. – that Dave loves strawberries, and that he still loves the Atlanta Braves, and exactly how to tease each of his grandchildren. When one of them visited recently and called his dinosaur a cat, he got all “offended”. Dad has fussed about it since, at each mention of grandson Jeremy’s name. He will forget eventually, but for now, it stirs an affectionate pot in his mind.2015 June Trip to Georgia to See Dad & Family 056

2015 June Trip to Georgia to See Dad & Family 0572015 June Trip to Georgia to See Dad & Family 058[None of us could ever beat him in arm-wrestling, and as frail as he is, he hasn’t forgotten how to wear us out and eventually draw down our arms.]

With Alzheimer’s, the world of those affected seems to get smaller and smaller. We used to have long, meandering conversations. I miss the dad of those conversations. We’ve been fortunate in that he is still much like himself, with less words. He loves to eat and loves to laugh. I treasure that laugh of his. He still loves people and having visits from his pastor, friends and family, and his hospice nurses.2015 June Trip to Georgia, Blog, Family, Friends, Flowers 2472015 June Trip to Georgia, Blog, Family, Friends, Flowers 2432015 June Trip to Georgia, Blog, Family, Friends, Flowers 3612015 June Trip to Georgia, Blog, Family, Friends, Flowers 332Especially his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Dad has gotten less interested in going out of his assisted living facility. It feels safe to him. Comfortable. Once we’re out though, he is engaged – talking to the other drivers, telling me how to drive, looking for coins on the road (like we’re going to stop and pick them up). Alzheimer’s took away his freedom to drive but it also took away his desire to drive – a strange companionship, this disease and those who contend with it.

2015 June Trip to Georgia, Blog, Family, Friends, Flowers 3932015 June Trip to Georgia, Blog, Family, Friends, Flowers 403One afternoon, we joined other residents in listening to and singing with a church choir in the great room of the facility – outside of the memory care unit. The world feels much larger there. The choir led in some old Gospel songs – “Victory in Jesus”, “Take It to the Lord in Prayer”, “I’ll Fly Away”. At first Dad seemed to really enjoy the singing, and then, he “went away”. Lost in his thoughts and memories.  I left him there…somewhere apart, following a scene I could not see.

After the choir finished, we walked back to the memory care unit, and he joined others for supper. Each has his or her own incredible life. Each now with different companions than they might have chosen – both at the table with them, and inside their own thoughts.2015 June Trip to Georgia, Blog, Family, Friends, Flowers 322

In watching Dad through his diminishing memory, and seeing those around him struggle, I’m struck by the dignity of life that we must battle to preserve. This quieter, mind-wandering, lovely old gentleman is still our Dad.

His repetitive “I’m the boss. I’m the boss.” is not surprising. With little education afforded to him as a farmer’s son during the Great Depression, he was rarely anyone’s boss. However, he has lived his life (for all the time I’ve known him) with such a confidence and determination, with autonomy and authority. With so much dignity that not even dementia can steal, hopefully.

Now, with Alzheimer’s, he won’t be easily convinced that he’s NOT the boss.

Maybe, it’s his turn…for a season.

Blog - I'm the boss - Alzheimer's[Big Dogs t-shirt with message (on the back) “I Am the Boss” – Happy Father’s Day present from that same daughter-in-law with a knack for great gifts – as in the dinosaur/kangaroo/cat toy Dad loves]

Repetition and Alzheimer’s

A Different Season of Life – Dad & Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s, the Brain, and the Soul

Alzheimer’s Reading Room – to Educate and Empower Alzheimer’s caregivers, their families, and the entire Alzheimer’s Community 

Alzheimer’s Speaks Blog – Giving Voice to Those Affected by Alzheimer’s

Memories From My Life Blog – Memory Posters

The Best Alzheimer’s Blogs of the Year (2015)

12 Behaviors that Trouble Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Alzheimer’s: 25 Signs Never to Ignore