44. You Can’t Fail at Learning

Good morning and welcome to your forty-fourth meditation. When’s the last time you dedicated yourself to learning something new? Has it been a while? Do you feel a little intimidated by learning in a way that you never did when you were young? Like perhaps your mind has been gradually getting duller and duller, and your inevitably failed attempts at learning will only be a testament to that suspicion? Don’t worry! So many adults feel this way. Having been out of school for so long; having focussed for an extended period of time on the set of skills and intelligence that you depend on to take care of your regular, daily responsibilities; struggling to find the time even to take care of these, let alone finding the time to learn new skills. This is simply adult life for most of us. Don’t feel bad about it. 

The misconception is that this relative absence of learning in your current life will somehow render new learning impossible. That is just wrong. Although for a long time scientists believed that the brain stopped making new connections in adult life, recent neuroscience has shown that the brain can preserve its plasticity and can continue to generate new brain cells well into old-age. And what helps to maintain and enhance the function of brain plasticity? …that’s right, learning. Studies have shown that learning multiple languages, playing a sport, doing theatre, and other activities contribute to what is called experience dependent structural plasticity.

You may argue, “but if learning helps with neuroplasticity, and I haven’t learned in a long time, my brain may no longer be adaptable, and so I’ll still likely fail, or at least do poorly, at whatever I try to learn now”. But to say this would be missing the point, wouldn’t it. The point is not to succeed or fail at what you’re attempting to learn. The point is just to be engaged in the process of learning. It wasn’t through being good at music or language or sports that participants enhanced their brain function. It was through the simple act of learning it. Working on it regularly in a dedicated fashion.

So think of it this way: you could either try taking up that new skill that has always interested you, enjoying the process, unworried about results, all the while contributing to the heightened functioning of your brain; OR you could NOT do the thing you always wanted to do, NOT ever know the joy of doing it, and accept a generally lower functionality of your brain. The choice is obvious. Make the time, learn the thing. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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