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Your Brain is Plastic and That’s Really Cool

May 3, 2016

- Meredith Betz

Well, yes it is. That’s great news for aging adults. Current neuroscience theory suggests that our brains are constantly evolving in response to what we actually do in the world. Like plastic, they are malleable.  Sadly, our culture has failed to “get the memo,” and claims that our brains are hardwired to decline, as we get older.  That’s it.  End of story.  How many times have you heard, “She’s sliding into retirement.” or, “Can she really keep up?” These declarations often precede being jettisoned from jobs or written off by younger generations as over the proverbial hill.  Some of us are actually in collusion and dupe ourselves into thinking it’s true and write ourselves off as well.
 
Let’s get the facts straight.  There has been a plethora of articles recently about neuroplasticity, that is, the theory that our brains are living evolving organs that can heal injury or declining memory, such as Alzheimers.  Far from being “hardwired, the brain is influenced by our bodies, emotions, thoughts and actions by forming new “circuits” to create positive change. Undeniably the brain is more plastic in younger individuals, however, plasticity can happen at all stages of life.
 
In Neuroplasticity: The 10 Fundamentals Of Rewiring Your Brain a recent article for reset.me, Debbie Hampton, inspirational writer and brain health educator, cites a book by Dr. Michael Merzenich, a leading pioneer in brain plactistity research.  In Soft-Wired, How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, the author posits that there are certain principles necessary for remodeling of the brain to take place.
 
Brain changes happen when you’re engaged.  When you’re more motivated and try, the more alert you are which leads to bigger brain change. Learning drives change in connections and memory guides and controls learning. Your brain records learning a new skill and is reinforced by memory. You have “to use it or lose it.” Merzenich says that older people are absolute masters at encouraging plastic brain change in the wrong direction. 
 
It stands to reason that building plasticity can be accomplished by practicing mindfulness, engaging in physical practice, and learning and experiencing new things.
 
Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset contends that you can choose between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset perspective.  Those who choose the latter are “gripped in the “tyranny of now” and run away.  People with a growth mindset nurture their plastic brains and believe that they can always learn and growing in “building the bridge to “yet.” What’s your choice

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Meredith Betz is an organizational consultant and leadership coach to leaders and high potential (individuals), both privately and within organizations, to unleash their fullest potential, explore choices that empower, challenge, and inspire them to reach their highest level of performance.
She delivers and facilitates team-development programs, particularly during organizational change. She helps teams to assess their performance, establish group vision and goals and practice strategic decision-making. In addition, Meredith helps team members to collaborate in creating a plan for execution and establishing a methodology for evaluation. She has significant experience in the healthcare industry though her practice is not limited to it.
Meredith holds a Masters of Organizational Dynamics degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Education degree from Bank Street College of Education and is accredited through the International Coaching Federation.