When I was young I recall reading that the brain stopped developing after a certain age. This idea would echo in my mind in later years when I wanted to learn how to play musical instruments or speak other languages. I was too old, I would think. It would no longer be easy and I would never be any good. When I would share my dreams with others, they too, without intending to discourage me would the same things. Clearly then, it must be true, and so I put such apparently unrealistic dreams aside, feeling I had missed my opportunity to learn them.
However, this idea of the brain stopping to develop was completely wrong of course, and in a way I knew this had to be so since I was indeed still learning things all the time. It took a while but eventually, with the help of the idea of Mastery, I began to learn those things that I had considered too late to tackle.
Simply put, neuroplasticity refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses due to changes in behavior, environment, learning, etc. In other words, our brain is not fixed, but constantly evolving.
Not only do we never stop learning, but continued learning actually increases our capacity to learn. Studies have also shown that the quality and length of one’s life also benefits from continued learning.
Yes, in some cases like language, there are certain windows in which we can learn much more easily than in later years, but that does not mean we lost the opportunity, but rather than we need to learn differently now.
There are many ways to improve our plasticity and learning ability. These include:
- Maintaining physical fitness
- Eating a healthy diet
- Maintaining regular, adequate sleep cycles
- Continually learning new skills/keeping oneself challenged
- Developing efficient practice styles
- Taking well-placed breaks
Teaching/Explaining What You Are Learning
There are many approaches to study but one feature common to many of them is to summarize or explain what you just studied. Trying to articulate what you are learning actively engages yourself in the process, allowing you to recognize gaps in your own understanding and better organize information in your mind. Research has shown that it is especially helpful to explain it as if teaching someone completely unfamiliar with the material. This forces you not to rely on technical terms and vague concepts when articulating the information.
While you do not need to be an expert or even have an audience to practice this method, there are some benefits to actually trying to teach someone else. You are reminded you need to pay attention to the most important points and organize them in your mind, further solidifying your understanding of the material. Likewise you have the opportunity of feedback from the “student” who may ask questions to help fill in the blanks in your explanation.
Good teachers and mentors realize that teaching is mutually beneficial. Students and mentees come from different backgrounds and experiences and so will have insights and understandings that are uniquely their own. Through dialog the teacher/mentor may come discover new perspectives and new ways of explaining the subject.
This can be considered one of the values of building and working with a community. It provides a space to share our Work and in the process bring more focus to it. Research suggest that simply telling learners that they would later teach another student changes their mindset enough so that they engage in more effective approaches to learning than did their peers who simply expected a test. So the act of preparing a presentation with the intent of sharing at a local chapter or peers furthers your studies.