New Year, New You
By: Dr. Deborah Anderson
How many times have you made a New Years’ resolution, only to falter a day or week later? Well you’re certainly not alone. Most people have great intentions as they put forth their lists, but it’s the follow-through that gets them. They give up before they have had a chance to create a new habit.
As adults we forget sometimes that it took us a long time and great effort to “learn” to do everything that we know how to do – walk, tie a shoelace, connect a bat to the ball. Somehow this fact gets lost on us when we try to learn as adults and we get frustrated and give up if something does not come easily. So what can you do to make this year a success? The answers lie in the world of neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to bud new neurons (the thinking cells in your grey matter) and to make new connections between neurons. There are two crucial ingredients to activate neuroplasticity in the brain: 1) focused attention; and, 2) practice, practice, practice.
There are two important rules to remember. The first one is: “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. Let’s say you are learning a new skill, like learning how to type on a keyboard. As you begin to practice moving certain fingers to certain keys, this creates a new firing pattern between neurons involved in that activity. As you repeat that combination of movements, the activation of these neurons at the same time will create a new brain map. The more that brain map is used the clearer and more quickly the neurons will fire. This is why you may struggle initially but over time your fingers just “fly” over the keyboard and you no longer need to “think” about which finger goes where.
The second rule is “Neurons that fire apart, wire apart.” This means that when you stop using a skill the brain map begins to disintegrate. Think of this as having only so much “real estate” in your brain. The “space” in the brain that was mapped to one skill may get turned over to a new skill if the old one is not practiced and used.
So, the reality is this: If you try to divide your attention (i.e., multi-tasking) while learning a new behavior and/or you stop practicing before the new brain map is well developed it is unlikely that you will acquire that new skill or behavior in your tool kit. It’s not that you’re an old dog that can’t learn a new trick it’s the mere fact that you can’t outsmart neuroplasticity with a quick fix or a magic bullet. There is just no way around doing the work. The new you may not be here today or even tomorrow, but he or she is just waiting to be created one repetition at a time!!
If you’d like to do some more reading in the area of neuroplasticity, here are some resource to get you started: “The Body Has A Mind of Its Own” by Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee; “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain” by Sharon Begley; and, “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge, M.D. Enjoy!