Your wired brain changes its connections constantly, but repeating the right things establishes good habits. The neurons that fire together, wire together.
The wired brain is one secret to brain plasticity, or how the brain acquires information and changes, holds that the more we play the piano or learn a new skill, the more we develop a habit.
Let’s say that we have a trainer teaching us singing, a new language, or a new sport such as surfing or basketball. Our trainer, like all trainers, knows one critical rule: the way to learn a skill is to test yourself and repeat it over and over and over and over again. This is what creates a correctly wired brain.
Our trainer (in this case Galacti) will always emphasize and reinforce mastering the basics: scales in music, dribbling in basketball, pronunciation and breath support in singing, vocabulary in mastering a new language (as long as we converse as well as memorize words), and so on. Our neurons are taking note as we train.
Repetitive exposure to “praiseworthy” lessons is the basis of a high-functioning body and mind. We view videos of adults telling children, “Wash your hands. Brush your teeth.Repetitive exposure to “praiseworthy” lessons is the basis of a high-functioning body and mind. Click To Tweet
Make your bed. Keep your rooms neat. Look left and right when stopping at a crosswalk. Give way to an elderly person. Say please and thank you.” We recognize these as basic life rules that children should practice daily.
Adults and workers have their share. We observe videos of automotive factory workers in a Ford assembly plant securing bolts on the instrument panel of a sedan on the assembly line. Another video shows an adult driving that car.
Driving is an activity that takes thought, but at the same time is repetitive: fasten seatbelt, start the car, and check your rearview mirror before backing out or turning. More videos detail other activities, such as lifting weights, doing the dishes, watering the plants, performing data entry, landscaping a yard, hammering in a nail at a construction site, or stocking shelves. Repetition of these activities leads to a properly wired brain.
We have repetitive exercises too, like “Wash your hands before eating,” or “Yield to oncoming traffic when driving and be courteous.” Again, these are repetitive exercises, but some of them have the ability to increase in difficulty, such as lifting heavier weights. As we’re pumping iron, we’re also “wiring” our brain and muscles to help us progress even further.
Physical therapists are aware of this principle. If you, a member of this tour group, sit in a leg extension chair to strengthen your leg after an injury, you will work that leg through incremental training that increases in difficulty over a short period called “massed practice” gives rise to an improved wired brain.You’ll find that concentrating an intense exercise effort to develop a needed skill in a short time is quite effective.Incremental training that increases in difficulty over a short period called “massed practice Click To Tweet
Interestingly, massed practice applies to other situations, such as immersion learning with a new language. Let’s say you need to learn French or Mandarin in a hurry because you are being transferred overseas for your new job. Lessons that increase in difficulty over a short period can help you master the skill.
Whether your instructor or therapist is drilling you in conversation with phrases such as “I speak Mandarin; I am here to help you,” or in regaining the use of your arm after a stroke, massed practice is effective.
As you pronounce the Mandarin or French language or do your leg extensions, we can see on brain scans what neurologists have come to understand: neurons that fire together, wire together.
The more you repeat, “Je suis ingénieur informaticien” (“I am an IT engineer”), the stronger your brain connections grow as the dendrites and axons associate (“fire”) and wire together, that’s the wired brain. To put it another way, the more you do, the more you can do. It becomes the happy opposite of a vicious cycle. As we ponder this, we are aware that we can see something related happening in young children.The more you repeat, the more the dendrites and axons associate, they fire and wire together, that's the wired brain. Click To Tweet
If a young child in our midst had a weak eye that wasn’t focusing, we could cover the good eye for a week to encourage the weaker eye to do the work of both eyes. Within just a few days, eye exams will show that we’ve increased the strength of that eye and the child will be able to take off the patch.
A simulation from the digital library of the universe shows us that the optical nerves, the neuron conduits involved in sight, are firing at an increased rate and strengthening the eye’s vision so the child can read the lower levels of the eye chart.
Constraint-induced treatment can rejuvenate activities such as sight in the body and mind. Sometimes it uses the original neurons, but other times it makes different neurons step up to the task. Patients with a leg injury, for example, aren’t allowed to favor their good leg, so it is constrained. We take turns simulating this situation and pretending.
While we can all feel the frustration as we use the affected leg to walk, or our less dominant hand to reach for an object over and over again, we also receive encouragement, help, and support from our guide, who is playing the role of occupational therapist.
We imagine both the progress we can make in a short time and the overwhelming relief as we regain our sense of independence and normalcy. The signals, initiated in the brain, travel to our fingers and legs so that the repeated treatment creates more and more connections within the brain. We can walk after our injury, as well as play piano.
This would not be possible without the plasticity and resilience of our brains and the way that they tell us to move, move better, or play scales. The result is a better wired brain.
This post is an excerpt from chapter 9.5 of Inventory of the Universe.
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