Mindset

Do Hard Things. It Changes Your Brain.

09.21.2023

Neuroscientists describe three ways that our brains can change when we do hard things.

⚡️The first way is to speed up our brain circuits. When we focus intensely on a specific skill, we force a particular circuit in our brain to fire repeatedly. That causes the brain to wrap myelin around those neurons, as if wrapping insulation around a wire, to improve efficiency of the circuits. (Morell, 1999)

🔌The second way is through rewiring our brains. When we practice a skill for thousands of hours, not only does our brain develop muscle memory, but it rewires what it knows to “conform to the current needs and experiences of the individual.” (Taub, 1995)

🌲The third way is through the growth of the brain size itself. Our brain is like a muscle; the more we challenge ourselves, the more we can potentially grow in certain areas. Seasoned taxi drivers who didn’t use GPS were found on MRI to have a larger memory center or hippocampus. (Maguire, 2011). Monks who have meditated for thousands of hours have more grey matter in their frontal brain than the average person. (Lazar 2006)

What's on your Mind?

We can intentionally change our brain speed, wiring, and size by deciding how we want to work.

⚡️Speed

We increase our brain’s processing speed through intentional focus. When you study, put 100% of your attention on one single intention. This is what author Chris Bailey calls “hyperfocus.” Get rid of distractions, or put yourself in an environment where your focus cannot be broken. Offload all the unclosed loops and thoughts in your mind by writing them down on a todo-list before starting your focus session. By focusing on one task, you isolate that one circuit in your brain and force it to fire again and again to strengthen that connection.

🔌Wiring

We rewire our brains through prolonged repetition. You’ll notice that when you first start using a new study skill, like the Feynman technique, you are constantly trying to remember the steps and what to do next. Sometimes you’re thinking more about how to use the technique than learning the lecture itself! But as you push through and repeatedly use the technique over many study sessions, you’ll notice the effort starts to feel like second nature. Your brain has rewired itself.

🌲Size

We grow the size of our brains with appropriate challenges. When you’re falling asleep while studying, this is your brain telling you that the task is too easy. Learning should feel difficult but not too difficult. This is a concept that author Peter Brown calls “desired difficulties.” An easy way to challenge yourself is to use active learning instead of passive learning. A passive learning technique would be reading your notes multiple times to review for an exam. It’s easy to do. An active learning technique would be to close your notes and try to rewrite them from memory. It’s much more difficult, but this challenge will help your brain grow.

© CAJUN KOI

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© CAJUN KOI

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