Posts Tagged ‘neuroplasticity’

Don’t Grow Up

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

As you read this, are you wishing you’d have grown up quicker, gotten to the age you’re at now sooner? Or do you wish you’d been able to spend more time at a younger age?

So why do we tell kids to “Grow up”? Why are we in such a hurry to get kids to act like adults? You know, the adults that we often don’t want to be ourselves, the ones stressed out, overworked, lacking the creativity of children, fearing failure, and generally lacking the physical energy we once had?

Ask a group of adults to draw something and most will say, “I can’t draw!”; ask a group of 5-year-olds, and they’ll jump into it. No fear of failure, no lack of creativity. Take kids to a park and they almost immediately run, jump and climb; take adults to a park and the first thing they do is look for a bench to sit on. Have you noticed bookstores are bursting at the seams with self-help books for adults, but you never see one aimed at kids.

As adults we often think that we can no longer do or learn something completely new, that the time to do that has long gone. But if you read some of the latest research about neuroplasticity – the ability of our brains to adapt and form new neuro-pathways – it’s easy to see that we can continue to grow, learn, adapt, change and improve until the day we die. Sometimes it’s a matter of having the right approach or strategy for learning, but there’s no doubt that you have all the ability you’ve ever had to take on something new.

Everyone should read the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. It encapsulates much of the research about neuroplasticity and can’t help but make you feel hopeful, no matter what your age and condition.

The next time you have the urge to tell a kid to grow up and be more mature, think again. Instead, tell yourself to grow down. Take chances. Make mistakes – in fact, embrace them as learning-takes. Do what you don’t think you’re good at. Know that your brain is constantly adapting, evolving and improving, so take advantage of that.

Go to a park and run just for the pure joy of it, if only for a few minutes. Just appreciate the fact you can do it. Learn to do something that you think you’re no good at – drawing, playing a musical instrument, playing a sport, cooking – just to prove that your brain can still learn (and it can!) and for the thrill of doing something you’re uncomfortable with. Look for opportunities to look fear of failure in the eye and say, “Screw you – I’m doing this despite what you think!” Make time to just play, doing whatever you want to do, not worrying about what others think.

Be a kid. Grow down.

Neuroplasticity

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

I’ve told my wife that if I ever have a stroke, or something else happens to me that affects my brain performance, make me read (or read to me if I can’t read) the book, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge.

BrainThe book is all about the latest research and development around neuroplasticity, or how our brains can rewire themselves, and adapt to all sorts of problems. For one thing, it talks about the very latest methods that are being used amazingly successfully in helping people who have had strokes. In the past, if a person had a left-hemisphere stroke, affecting the person’s use of their right hand and arm, the rehab would consist mostly of training the person to use their left hand to do what their right used to do. In other words, the thinking was that the damage was done, and the only solution now is to accept that you’ll never have full use of the hand again.

That approach is changing dramatically. In some places, rehab now consists of actually restricting the use of the person’s “good” hand, and forcing the person to work with the “damaged” side. If the “good” hand is allowed to be free, even if it isn’t used, the brain will struggle along trying to use the same parts of the brain to do what it used to, even though this part of the brain is now damaged. But – and this is the amazing part – if the “good” hand is restricted (even tied to the body so it can’t move) for long enough, while the person works with the “damaged” side, it’s as if the brain decides that it better figure out something to enable survival. In doing that, it begins to rewire where in the brain the control of the “damaged” side occurs.

As an example, if a person has a left hemisphere stroke, damaging the language center in the brain (which is in the left hemisphere), rather than just accepting that the damage is done and the person will have to live with limited language abilities, some now take a different approach. One approach is to force the person to use their left hand to write and/or use a computer mouse while speaking the name of an object in front of them. By activating the right hemisphere of the brain through physical use of the left hand, the brain begins to do some of the language work on that side. In other words, it begins to rewire the language center. The results are dramatic.

So, why would I want to read this book if I’d just had a stroke? Because it fills me with the knowledge that my brain can rebuild itself. My brain is very plastic, in that it can adapt. It can recover. And having that knowledge would inspire and motivate me – it would give me hope.

If anyone has any stories about neuroplasticity, and how the brain can rewire itself, I’d sure love to hear about them.