New experiences and questioning old ones

January 3, 2010

Article link: How to train the aging brain
Source: Barbara Strauch, NYTimes.com

“….[we need to] challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”

We all know that our brain comprises of a series of interconnected neurons.  The neurons hold information, understanding, experiences and our knowledge.  Neurons have a life of their own.  Neuron A can be connected with neuron B, and one year later, that connection may be broken due to the lack of long-term use of that pathway between A and B.  Instead, neuron A may forge a new pathway through neuron F.  On average, 11 billion neurons exist in our brain.  That means there can be trillions of possible interconnecting pathways.  You do the math for the number of permutations and combinations that can exist.

Our ability to learn and our age constitute a true inverse function.  Once we leave academia, it seems we forget the fact that the very reason we are where we are today is because of the open mind we held during the first 25 years of our lives.  Because we went to school and were forced to make a sponge of our minds, our minds were able to develop new neuron pathways everyday.  We listened, we thought, we questioned, we rethought, we hypothesized, we argued, we concluded…. and then we repeated the cycle.  Day in and day out.  That leads to tremendous growth for the neuropathic network that makes up our brain.

Then, we left academia and slammed on the brakes.

As we tenure at work and collect “experience” points under our resume, we seem to lose our ability to learn from others.  For example, when was the last time we allowed ourselves to learn something from someone younger than us?  Our first reaction is to close our minds to their lack of experience and naivety.  We forget that the reason we excelled in school and work, the reason we received a steady stream of raises and promotions, is because we were in constant flux.  We let ourselves change.  We let ourselves develop.  We opened ourselves up to learning from others and experiencing new things.  Now that we’re older, why do we all of a sudden shut off the very faucet that nurtured our growth?

Research is increasingly proving that there is real value in challenging our habits and beliefs – even more so as we age.  Research also shows an advantage older people have over younger – the ability to recognize patters and see results and solutions.  As we age, our minds become good at viewing the whole picture, taking into account the larger scope, and arriving at a more comprehensive solution to things in life. (Finally!  I knew there was a reason why only older people ran our country!)

What if we, as we age, could combine the power of experience that comes with age and the sharpness of mind that prevails in youth?  What if we can train both aspects to work in concert?

Research says we can.  We just need to approach life as if we’re in academia all over again.  We need to become students again and open ourselves up to interacting with others who question our beliefs.  We need to break out of our cliques and social groups and make it a habit to explore.  It’s tough to leave – even for a moment – a familiar perch.  It’s tough to get out of our comfort zone.  But, we owe it to our minds to do it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: