Learning How to Change Your Brain by Robin Trimingham
We have all heard the expression that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, and while this might be true of dogs, research reveals that it is not the case with humans.
According to Dr. Lara Boyd, a Neuroscientist and Physical Therapist who directs the Brain Behaviour Lab at the University of British Columbia, every time you have an experience or learn something new you reorganize and literally change your brain, and many people adapt their brains to support specific specialized functions, often without realizing that they are doing it. (Click here watch a fascinating TEDx Talk given by Dr. Boyd).
Conventional wisdom has been that children could adapt their brains easily as they grew, but that this ability did not persist in adulthood. It turns out that the ability to adapt and reorganize your brain is not limited by age, and it can even be used to support recovery when you damage your brain.
This means that computer games and brain training exercises are good for older brains as they support the neuroplasticity of the brain as it is this “plasticity” that allows younger people to learn quickly and adapt to new situations and new skills.
But there’s a catch – you need to engage in these skills on a regular basis over time for these brain “changes” to take place and become permanent, meaning that like any other positive behavior they must become part of your regular routine and you must be willing to do the amount of work that your brain requires to learn and improve if you want to build the brain that you desire. Furthermore, the more you use a section of the brain, the easier it becomes to use it as that area becomes “excitable” and it develops a whole network of connections to make that area more effective.
Conversely, brain plasticity can be “negatively affected by everything that you don’t do”. This means you are more likely to become forgetful if you don’t actively challenge yourself to remember things, just as climbing a flight of stairs becomes more difficult if you don’t keep your body active as you age.
How much effort it will take to change and or learn new skills varies widely from person to person both because people have different learning styles and differing levels of affinity to certain types of tasks or learning; so don’t assume that you can learn a new language in a weekend but also don’t assume that you can’t become proficient just because your hair has turned white!
By Robin Trimingham