We’ve been seriously misinformed. We thought that kids brains could learn very fast, but adult brains don’t change very much. We thought that your personality shaped young, but didn’t change when you were older. We thought that talent was something that emerged in a child and adults could only work with the fixed set of talents they were born with.
It is true that kids learn fast and personality develops very early and that kids display differing levels of talent. But it’s not true that adults can experience the same brain changes–if they were willing to do the work.
Some neuroscience breakthroughs in the last decade have allowed us to see the brain in detailed action for the first time. And scientists have discovered the brain doing things we always thought were impossible.
A couple of awesome examples:
There are programs right now that use devices to help people were born blind to see–without fixing their eyes. They help them re-purpose sections of their skin as visual receptors by attaching a black & white camera to their head, then putting a plate with pins on the same spot of skin for a few weeks in a row. The pins act like pixels (i.e. pins press down for dark spots of the image, lightly touch for gray, stay up for white). As long as you use the same section of skin, the brain rewires that section to become a visual center. When they’re fully integrated, if you throw a ball at them, they’ll instantly flinch. They’re literally seeing the world, just in black & white.
(This isn’t a theory, this is happening today.)
Also, there was a group of senior citizens who were experiencing some decline in brain function. Age was blamed by most, but they wanted to test is brain exercise could help. So they split them into a test group and a control group. The test group got a bunch of brain activities (word puzzles, art, math problems, etc)–control group just hung out and did normal life. They were hoping for less brain decline–or maybe even to see some more activity in certain sections. Not only did they get both of those results, they also found that the size of their brain–the mass of cells–increased. They literally grew new brain cells.
Remember when you were told that if you get drunk or high you kill a brain cell you’ll never get back? Yeah, they were wrong. Not about the drunk or high killing brain cells, just the growing cells back part. I’m not advocating abusing substances–it’s still smarter to never have killed any cells–but society way underestimated what the brain is capable of.
I could go story after story, but the bottom line is this: our brains are the most flexible, adjustable brains in all of creation. It’s our great gift and comes with a price. We’re born lacking the innate ability of just about every other species on the planet, but we can learn just about anything we choose.
Adults brains–until the aging-to-death phase begins–have basically the same ability to learn and reshape themselves as kids. The forty year old man’s brain has the same growth potential as a four year boy.
So why do we observe something so very different? Why are four year olds learning and changing so much and forty years old generally getting set in their ways?
Answer: They brain doesn’t automatically grow and change. You have to put it in a certain environment, with particular kinds of activities. Leave us alone and we’ll just do what we’ve always done. Even worse, our learning ability will atrophy–literally the same way a muscle in a cast withers when you don’t use it.
[I’ll do another post on those learning conditions later.]
But just like your muscle that atrophied, with proper use it can regain it’s strength. No matter your age, your brain can reengage as a learning marvel and you can change anything about your life that’s brain-related.
Seriously, from music to coordination to analytical details to your personality traits–if you want to do the hard work you can change your brain. There are validated reports of change in personality, IQ, learning disabilities, artistic ability, and coordination. It’s still a small percentage of people so far, but it’s increasing exponentially every year.
Be warned though. Most of the world is caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Adults can’t change (they believe) so they don’t try to change, resulting in no change, “proving” to themselves that they can’t change.
The first step in making major breakthrough is believing it’s possible and trying.
What would you change about your brain (either learn or unlearn) if you could? Are you ready to change it?