Posts Tagged ‘plasticity’

The other day I was hanging out with my 4 year old niece when she showed me the new skills she learned at gymnastics class. Like a fillet of kid containing no bones, she did her best Simon Biles imitation, lying on her stomach, arching her back, and touching her pointed toes to her head.


“Come on Uncle Rich, do it.”


Having been wrapped around her finger since she was born, I gave it a try. While the distance between my head and toes was roughly equivalent to the distance between the earth and moon, being the wonderful, encouraging little girl that she is, I heard,


“Good job Uncle Rich!”


gymnastics2Although my attempt failed miserably, I felt the yogic position open up my hips, which have always been tight, so I decided to add this position to my morning yoga and stretching routine.

Bad move.


The next 4 days after attempting to stretch into this position more deeply, my lower back was in intense pain. My muscles screamed at me, reminding me that I was not 4 years old.


This got me thinking about my age, my inabilities – or more appropriately – the abilities I am losing, and how to grow old gracefully. I realized there were two critical elements to growing old gracefully – acceptance and knowing your limits.


Apparently, I suck at both!


Physically, we must accept that what our bodies could do when we were 20 years old, they no longer can do well, if at all, at 50 years old. Interestingly, there is one area of our being where these limits do not apply . . . our thinking.


It has been scientifically proven that our brains have a quality known as plasticity. That means that we have the ability to continually, and forever, form new neural pathways, which essentially means we can ALWAYS learn new things! Always.


The cliche stating “You can’t teach and old dog new tricks” is horribly wrong. And there is plenty of evidence against it.


  • George Washington was 44 years old when he made his epic crossing of the Delaware River and turned the fortunes of the Revolutionary War.
  • Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he bought McDonald’s and transformed it into the world’s biggest fast food franchise.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 years old when she published the first of her Little House series.
  • John Glenn was 77 years old when he became the oldest human to go into space.
  • Mary Baker Eddy was 87 years old when she founded the Christian Science Monitor.
  • Nola Ochs was 95 when she became the oldest person to receive a college diploma.


And this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are an untold number of people who achieved great things as they grew older.


If you ask me, that is the true definition of aging gracefully. Someone who does not define themselves by their age or their body’s ability, but rather rather by the unlimited possibility held within their minds and their hearts.


You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.



If the above quote referenced “new technology” rather than “new ideas”, sadly, I would have to admit that I am starting to show my age. However, in the domain of new ideas I am very, very young! In fact, I would be so bold as to say that when it comes to new ideas, I have the mind of a child . . . one where all possibilities exist.


In fact, when it comes to new ideas, modelling children is the way to go. Their curiosity, inquisitiveness, desire to understand and freedom from limitations allows them to create an infinite amount of possibilities. Their “land of make believe” is a perfect place to exist when trying to solve a problem. Not all the ideas will be viable, of course, but the quantity of new ideas will be astounding!




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We think that with our iPads, smart phones, electric cars and wireless connections that we have evolved tremendously since the time we rose up on two hairy limbs and walked upright.


The truth, however, is that while all of these are phenomenal advances, our brains are still “reptilian” in nature, with one of its primary purposes being to keep us safe and secure, just as it did millions of years ago.


Add to that the fact that we are creatures of habit, and that the way our brains work actually supports the development of habits, and one can quickly see how we can get stuck in ruts that keep us in safe, monotonous lives.


Chances are if we examine our lives, the vast majority of our day would be made up of the same activities done at roughly the same time over and over again.  Living in these ruts and habits is vital to our survival though.  Without them, we might not be able to function efficiently given the infinite number of possibilities and opportunities that exist in the world.


But, the same brain that is designed to keep us in safe habits also has an amazing quality known as plasticity – the ability of the brain to grow new neural pathways and change itself.  These new pathways allow us to think and do things differently.  Essentially, plasticity is the ability to rewire our brains with an infinite number of new ways of being.  It is like calling a tow truck that can come pull us out of our rut and old, tired habits.


Want proof?  Check out the unthinkable . . . and witness the power of the human brain, body and spirit. 


As scientists learn more and more about the brain, we are starting to realize its infinite capability. The challenge for us is to evolve beyond our habits and old tired thinking that keep us stuck in similar patterns and fearful of trying new or different things.  It is only by pushing ourselves to think differently and step beyond our comfort zones that the thrill of being alive can be experienced and the unknown can be discovered.


If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.            – Dr. Lair Ribeiro



There is an amazing world out there waiting to be discovered and explored.  Challenge your thinking and old ways of being!  Challenge your beliefs and your habits!  Don’t just go through the motions in your life.  Choose to live each and every moment!  In doing so, you will witness a whole new world unfold before you.


Here are some unconventional tips to shake free of old habits and build some new neural pathways in your brain.


  • When you bathe each morning, wash your body in reverse order and use the opposite hand.
  • Brush your teeth differently each day.
  • “Do one thing everyday that scares you.”
  • Meditate (the focus on and awareness of your thoughts can help break habits)

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