Neuroplasticity: The Human Brain Outsmarts Itself with Lifelong Learning
Your brain is not the same when you finish this sentence
Until a few months back, I had a false idea that mental illness is incurable after a certain age. Same was the belief for centuries that our brain functions like a machine, and it stopped growing after a certain age.
Then around the mid 20th century, Paul Bach-y-Rita — the Father of Neuroplasticity — proved this traditional notion wrong. He showed our brain is flexible like plastic.
I thought if a person suffers from brain disease in old age, they spend their remaining life with memory impairment, stroke, and other neurological disorders which would devastate their last few years on earth.
But surprise! Our brain is adaptive. It can learn anything in this world. It is the practical way of saying, “nothing is impossible”.
A remarkable discovery in the field of brain science
Norman Doidge, in his book “The Brain that Changes Itself”, has documented real-life stories of personal triumph which helped blind people see. It also healed people with stroke in learning to speak again and several other situations where the brain goes through structural changes throughout life. It did so to repair the damaged part by synaptic pruning ( letting go of bad habits ) and developed new neural networks by synapse generation ( building good habits ).
I am still in the first chapter of this book. There is infinite knowledge in here. I could only spend 30 minutes daily for neuroplasticity because I want the short-term memory to become sharp ( not volatile after ending a 60 minutes nonsense brain-drain session ) and the important ones to persist in my long-term memory.
I scoured to find how it happens because it sparked curiosity. I know your heart is also thumping!
It occurs with the process of LIFELONG LEARNING. The scientific term is sensory substitution.
Everytime you think, do, react or even just rest in sleep, all of these behaviours are changing your brain. It is happening as you are reading this right now. The positive or negative transformation is your choice! It depends on your direction of thinking and behaviour.
How do you use neuroplasticity to do whatever you want?
The method is practice. Whenever you try to learn a new skill, it feels hard in the starting because there is resistance. The resistance comes because the brain is working hard to make new connections between nerve fibres. These connections are called synapses. They are responsible for signal transfer in our nervous system.
Analogy-wise, think of nerve fibres as two metal rods and synapse is the strength with which you weld them. Only in the case of the brain, I don’t know how strong this synapse could get. The more zap it is, the faster is the signal transfer in a neural pathway. And, the smarter you become.
Lifelong learning means training the subconscious mind.
At one level, the synapses become so strong that you will master the new skill which you thought was difficult. Just like you mastered walking in childhood. Right now, you can learn whatever you want with lifelong learning mentality. It will also sharpen short-term memory and consolidate the long-term one.
Real-life example: Dull Sanjeev in class 3rd ( I got 4/20 in the first Maths unit test ) learned to score 20/20 in the last unit test in class 4. It happened because our dad forced us for tuition. We assimilated like crazy for the next 365*2=730 days — the same number is the dream target for my blogging streak also. Today is day 98.
Scientists are practising sensory substitution in medicine, mostly for severe mental illness. My case is relatively simple. I just have to consistently show up every day to build the momentum in achieving my dream. It is like snowballing downhill. Now you feel the momentum I mentioned a few seconds back.
Fight for your dreams.
If you put hard work to pursue your dreams, your learning will be on steroids. Another example is me turning from a night owl ( 6 years of nocturnal behaviour ) to an early bird by challenging my body to boost my fitness levels through exercise. It started last year when I tracked my fitness goals for 100 days continuously. I wanted to move with the Sun, so I did. Your lifestyle choice is subjective to your priorities.
On July 13, 2020, the fitness streak will reach day 365 ( or 366 depending on leap day). I already see the remarkable transformation in my mental stamina and resilience. It is also improving my emotional intelligence which is making me a communication wizard.
The other dream — career-wise — which I am striving for is becoming a writer. I am aiming for the day when I will bag my first book deal. I want to hold a hard copy of my book in my hand. I want my dad to read that book and remember the person I am becoming while fighting for my dreams.
Medium is my launchpad which is giving me the perfect headstart. I am learning my strengths with time and beating anxiety day-by-day. I am also training my subconscious mind by practising gratitude whole-heartedly.
I want to break the internet like never seen before. My journey already started on March 25 this year and today is day 98 of my blogging streak. The memorable day will be once my first book gets published.
I don’t have a writer idol right now, but I do have an imaginary one which is a combination of all the successful personalities I admire. My dad is a part of this idol. Some of them are my close friends that inspire me. Some of them are global business magnates. The list of people is non-exhaustive because I cherry-pick the qualities of world leaders that resonate with my attitude. The imaginary idol is also dynamic in vision. It evolves as my perception of reality shapes with time.
Human beings are curious by nature, especially the scientists who made inventions through extensive research.
We are passionate to learn new things and master the ones that matter to us. You can even practice lifelong learning to decelerate ageing.
It all depends on doing activities that are healthy for your brain. I mean, all the good habits you develop will improve your intelligence and health both.
I was reading “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and left the first chapter one month back. This book gives practical advice, so I am still at the application phase of some of the lessons I learned.
Though neuroplasticity uses sensory substitution to cure a damaged brain, lifelong learning is the one I am practising to become a writer. My journey is relatively simpler.
I am evolving in these two areas right now: HEALTH and CREATIVE WRITING. Health has reached the subconscious level now. It just comes naturally. Health is one of the things I could never compromise in the long-term. I’ve even set my body’s circadian rhythm to wake up without a clock ( lazy days of guilty pleasure allowed ).
What will you master with your everchanging brain? If it is a bad habit which persists for a long time, then it will turn to addiction, and you will need to go to rehab or detox on your own. On the positive side, if you fight for your dreams by developing good habits and mental resilience, you will stand out in this world by creating your own identity. There is nothing like neutral habits. There are only good or bad ones. See you tomorrow!
This blog belongs to a series of posts I am publishing in this 100-days streak. Today is day 98. Navigate to the end of article 22, for the references from day 23 onwards. If you would like to read the ones before day 22, here is the first one that documents them in the end.