Old Dog, New Tricks
As we get older, we tend to stay set in our ways of thinking and behaving. We learn what works for us, and we tend to stay content in our comfort zones. However, studies have shown that a childlike approach to life in certain situations can actually be beneficial to our aging brains!
Over our lifetime, we have learned to integrate our many years of education and skill building into our current thought processes and how we approach our everyday lives. University of California-Riverside psychology professor Rachel Wu, PhD published an article supporting the idea, however, that in order to protect our brains as we grow older, stepping outside of our comfort zones and incorporating a more youthful approach to life is important. She states that “across your lifespan, you go from ‘broad learning’ (learning many skills as an infant or child) to ‘specialized’ learning (becoming an expert in a specific area) when you begin working, and that leads to cognitive decline initially in some unfamiliar situations, and eventually in both familiar and unfamiliar situation.”
There are six key factors that can help explain the difference between the broad learning and specialized learning:
- OPEN-MINDED VS. CLOSED-MINDED. AS WE AGE, WE’RE LESS LIKELY TO TRAVEL OUTSIDE OUR COMFORT ZONES.
- CONSISTENT ACCESS TO TEACHERS AND MENTORS VS. NO ACCESS. THEY’RE OUT THERE, OF COURSE, BUT WE SELDOM SEEK THEM OUT.
- A GROWTH MINDSET VS. A FIXED MINDSET. ONCE WE’RE SETTLED IN OUR JOBS, MOST OF US FEEL LIKE WE KNOW ALL WE NEED TO KNOW.
- A FORGIVING ENVIRONMENT VS. ONE IN WHICH FAILURE COMES WITH CONSEQUENCES. WHY TAKE A RISK WHEN IT COULD GET YOU FIRED?
- A SERIOUS COMMITMENT TO LEARNING VS. A LACK OF PERSEVERANCE. THE OLDER WE GET, THE LESS LIKELY WE ARE TO SOLDIER ON THROUGH DIFFICULT SUBJECTS.
- LEARNING MULTIPLE SKILLS SIMULTANEOUSLY VS. A SINGULAR FOCUS. IT’S HARD ENOUGH TO LEARN ONE NEW THING AT THIS AGE, SO WHY PUSH YOURSELF?
(list provided by Experience Life)
In relation to this, an article published by the Harvard Medical School stated that “challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active, but pursuing a hobby or learning a new skill can function the same way.” Keeping our minds fresh and active has also been proven to diminish signs of dementia as we age!
According to Psychology Today, as we age, we still have an inner child dwelling us, even though some adults are unaware of this. The inability to recognize this metaphoric child within us, however, can lead to many behavioral, emotional, and relationship difficulties in our everyday lives. According to Stephen A. Diamond, PhD, “to become adults, we’ve been taught that our inner child–representing our child-like capacity for innocence, wonder, awe, joy, sensitivity and playfulness–must be stifled, quarantined or even killed.” The very qualities that positively mirror our inner child can be lost or forgotten as we age, and, in turn, can be detrimental to our health and well-being. Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the non-profit organization called the National Institute for Play, has studied the benefits of incorporating fun and childlike activity into our everyday lives. His research has stemmed back about 40 years, and has proven that fun and play time can actually decrease a person’s risk of depression and feelings of being ‘stuck’. So, not only does a childlike approach positively affect our aging brains, it is crucial for our mental health as well!
Getting comfortable in our everyday routines is something that is bound to happen to most people at some point. However, as we age, it is important that we do not remain stuck. Rather, it is essential that our minds stay active, and we force ourselves out of our comfort zones every once in a while.
Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?!