I get this a lot: Can you really teach an old dog (“like me”) new tricks? It seems everyone, at times, doubts his or her ability to learn, to develop, to change anything about oneself regardless of the desire to do so. Each of us is capable of learning, achievement and living up to the adventure of change at any age.
We are, without question, extremely malleable in our early years when learning comes fairly easy and change is readily accepted. But the phenomenon of “neural plasticity”—the brain’s ability to generate new cells, forge new connections, and strengthen old ones—persists into adulthood. Mental development helps your brain produce new connections between nerve cells that allow them to communicate with one another, thus helping you store and retrieve information more easily, regardless of your age.
With physical development, a steady program of exercise helps to reduce the gradual loss of muscle mass that occurs in the human body with age. And it makes you feel good. The brain operates on a similar principal. Our minds need exercise and without mental development goals we cannot consider ourselves to be “fit” or “balanced.” Mental exercise keeps your mind sharp and agile; it helps you think well and retain mental acuity into your later years. The extent of your mental workout may be as revealing in conversation as the results of your physical workout are in your swim suit!
Examples of mental development goal categories might be “to continually challenge myself by learning new skills,” or “to develop a reading program,” or more broadly, “to exercise my mind regularly.” Specific examples of mental development goals include “read 12 biographies in the next 12 months,” or “include puzzles, memorization exercises, reading, games, and engaging conversations in my daily routine.”
Whether you are an old dog or a young one, now is the time to develop your mental muscle. Anyone can learn new tricks. What is your action plan?