Old dogs have trouble learning new tricks; you are not a dog

There is a reason animals are more receptive to learning in the early years, and it has to do with connections in the brain that are still fluid. In fact, the reason a newborn baby can’t focus or see is that all the visual neurons haven’t established any connections yet. Eventually the baby “learns” to see, focus and what to respond to. Our brains are so fluid when we are born that they are receptive to too much, and eventually connections form through a learning process where the baby “learns” what to focus on and pay attention to. Over time, this occurs on it’s own. But recent research has discovered that the brain can be open to change at any age, and that there are things you can do intentionally to improve your brain plasticity. Most of us have things we want to change about our responses and feelings, when they are more upsetting than they need to be, for example. Sometimes we learn a pattern of negative obsessional thinking. This pattern makes every day harder than it needs to be. So it’s encouraging to know that you actually do have the ability to change your brain and your life whenever you make that your priority.

Here are a few examples of how. “Mindfulness” is a type of training that you could learn by visiting YouTube and searching for Mindfulness activities, or you could search for “MBSRfree” and begin the course. Research has actually been done on what happens to the brain of people who practice Mindfulness. They stay physically healthier. The grey matter in the brain actually grows in size at points in life (later years) when it often shrinks. Pain levels are diminished without drugs. The effects of such a practice are truly amazing and within your power to perform. Practicing Meditation accomplishes the same benefits.

Here are other ways to improve your brain plasticity. Change your habits. Stop doing the same things the same way every day. Change the order in which you do things. Instead of showering and then brushing your teeth, do the opposite. Changing one little thing you regularly do lets the brain know it’s learning something. It makes you so much more aware of everything when you change one thing. And that creates more mindfulness activities. Learn something new. Try something new like Soduku, Crosswords, or take a class in something you’ve always wondered about. Every new thing you do opens and prepares your brain and helps you make new connections, which helps destroy those that cause depression, anxiety or panic attacks. And surprisingly as well, a number of drugs used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder are being studied (pilot studies are in progress) because it is believed they increasee brain plasticity to that experiences by humans earlier in life (referred to as “critical periods”. Drugs that affect serotonin and Acetylcholine can also improve brain plasticity. You gamers out there will be happy to know that playing Action Games also improves plasticity. But there is also a reason this brain activity decreases as we age, because too much “newness” and change can cause problems too, as we can see with people who are uprooted violently from their lives. Too much re-wiring can cause one to lose one’s sense of themselves.

It used to be that we thought “Autism” was an incurable disorder. Today, early intervention techniques help those afflicted learn new behaviors and responses that often make older children who were initially diagnosed with Aspergers appear very “normal”. In fact, I had a child with obvious Aspergers in my office last week. The father, who displayed zero signs of Aspergers, said he behaved and spoke exactly like his child did when he was this age. The fact that we can rewire the brain using behavioral techniques is already apparent in the outcomes of those with mild Aspergers disorders. It is expected over time that other mental health issues may similarly be “fixed” over time with mental health practices such as those listed above.

How exciting it is to know that there are many ways you can gradually make helpful changes to improve your thought process, mental health, and coping abilities. There are many resources you can learn to be a better you. It might be harder to learn new tricks, but worth the effort.

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Old dogs have trouble learning new tricks; you are not a dog

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