The ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.
The idea that our minds are not just set, unchangeable, static, makes so much feel possible. I have grown up in a world that encourages us to believe that talents and abilities are innate, that we are “gifted” or “a natural”. Further, if we have to work too hard at something it is an indication that we are not naturally gifted in that area and therefore are unlikely to every become really good at it.
Josh Waitzkin states, “The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability we will be brittle in the face of adversity.” I agree entirely with this statement and see it play out on a daily basis with the students that I council. If we believe that struggle and effort are indicative of inability, then we will give up when things get hard. Instead, if we believe as Rick Hanson asserts, that “Failure is the most essential step to success” then we will be able to embrace adversity as a necessary part of growth.
Furthermore, if we use our mind to change our brain, to change our mind for the better, then we will be able to harness our full potential and become resilient when we face challenges. Hanson, refers to this sort of thinking as self-directed neuroplasticity. This concept feels very liberating and empowering to me as it allows us to defy what seems to come naturally and instead to master, whatever we set our minds to – quite literally.
I have started talking with students about neuroplasticity. It is interesting to observe how few of them have heard of this and how many of them hold onto the belief that struggle and effort are a sign of inability and weakness. Having this dialogue with students I have seen an instant impact on their ability to look at the next week of exams: the struggles, the doubts, the hard-work that lies immediately in front of them, and to see it not as an exercise in futility and self-doubt, but instead as an opportunity to transform their brain, in meaningful ways. To literally form new neural connections, and pathways, to impact the chemistry, structure and function of their brain in a way that sets them up better for learning, success, and resilience.