Ever since I began reading about brain plasticity, I’ve started to sound more and more like Oprah and Dr. Phil when speaking to friends and family.
“You have the ability to change.”
“This task is only hard because your brain hasn’t made the necessary neural connections yet.”
“You aren’t doomed to be weak at something for the rest of your life.”
I’m not trying to be a motivational speaker. I’m simply communicating what researchers in the exciting area of brain plasticity are uncovering: that the adult brain is not hard-wired and doomed to live out a fate determined in early childhood. You aren’t necessarily destined to experience declining intellectual abilities in adult and later years.
Scientists are finding ways to change the brain through intellectual exercises. People with poor auditory memory, for instance, can benefit greatly by memorizing poetry. People who are socially clumsy can be given exercises that improve the brain’s ability to read nonverbal clues.
All of us have strong and weak brain functions. Brain plasticity exercises offer the ability to improve the weak areas. What we all need is a way to identify those areas of weakness so that we can develop a plan to improve them.
What this leads to is a need for the ultimate pretest. Just as the start of a physical exercise program often entails a fitness evaluation by a doctor or personal trainer, a complete evaluation of our brains’ abilities will identify our intellectual strengths and weaknesses.
This could have an impact on how organizations provide training. If a certain skill is proving difficult for learners to master, brain plasticity exercises may be suggested to improve the brain’s ability to learn such skills. Once the new neural connections have formed, learning the actual skill may be much easier.
What could this look like in the real world? People learning to become air traffic controllers, for example, could, perhaps, benefit from exercises that would strengthen their spatial thinking. With those neural connections developed, learning to manage busy airline traffic may be easier.
As Norman Doidge, M.D. writes in The Brain that Changes Itself: “Our weak spots can have a profound effect on our professional success, since most careers require the use of multiple brain functions.”