These days there is a lot of visibility on the importance of learning beyond our schooling. Commercials advertise adult brain-training games and computer programs. Doctors recommend keeping the brain active to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In Maximum Brainpower, authors Schlomo Breznitz and Collins Hemingway give deep insight into our brains and how our brains function. They provide understanding into the way in which our brains evolve over time and how we can take an active role in our ability to learn.
In one section they talk about neural plasticity. “Neural plasticity is the formal phrase for the brain’s ability to physically change as the result of new stimulation.”
They dive deep into the physiology of the brain explaining the ability to create new brain cells through a process called neurogenesis. They state, “These insights about brain plasticity help us understand the importance of stimulation for learning and for brain health. The degree of our brain’s plasticity is directly related to the degree we are being challenged. This is equally true whether we’re trying to master difficult new tasks or information or to recover from a major trauma.”
But how many of us really strive to learn and challenge ourselves mentally from a systematic standpoint? When we are challenged mentally, what is our response? My response for years was to try and avoid the challenge. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone rather than putting myself in a challenging situation that could mean that I fail.
But we need to realize that challenging situations might be uncomfortable but great things can come from them. By facing challenges we grow our abilities and literally grow our brains.
The authors explain, “A thousand new neurons may be born a day in adults, but half or more die within a few weeks. It appears that cell creation is routine, but the survival of the new brain cells relates directly to learning. A strong correlation exists between cell survival, the difficulty of the task that’s being attempted, and how well the person masters the task for which this new cell has been recruited to learn.”
I like to reference the Tao Te Ching a lot in my articles because of the paradoxical nature of the writing. It points to opposites and links them in ways we typically don’t do. It explains that there is good in bad and bad in good. The easy path is hard and the hard path is easy.
Looking at learning we can see a paradox. It might seem better to stay within our comfort zones. It might be easier to avoid mentally challenging situations. But the easy path is actually hard because we won’t be expanding our brain and the ability to process information.
Therefore we should take the same systemic improvement focus that we used to get our education when we are in grade school and apply it to our adult life; slowly and consistently stretching our mental abilities with challenging mental problems. By using the idea of slow, incremental improvement we can continue to grow our minds to reach new goals and have an overall clearer understanding. This will help us continue to learn and assist our brain in developing throughout our lives.