Your Brain Can Do Better!

Source: Fast Company, Nov 2016

In 2000, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the results of a by-now famous research study examining the brains of London taxi drivers who had navigated the city’s streets for years. The researchers found that the part of the taxi drivers’ brains that deal with spatial relationships—the hippocampus—had grown in size and contained a higher number of neural networks. Essentially, the taxi drivers had changed their brains by navigating London so much.

It’s not just cabbies whose brains change and adapt through training. Our brains are anything but static. When we have new experiences and encounter unfamiliar ideas, clusters of neurons are formed and existing clusters connected with previously learned behaviors are strengthened. Through the right kind of training, our brains can adapt to perform at higher levels than many of us tend to think—pushing us past what we believe our “natural abilities” to be.

YOU CAN DO MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU CAN

Ericsson and others have found that continual training has similarly remarkable effects across a wide array of professions, including business, music, mathematics, and sports—turning otherwise ordinary people into experts capable of superior performance.

The renowned art teacher Betty Edwards made her name by taking people with ordinary artistic abilities and teaching them to draw impressive self-portraits.

She accomplishes this feat not in years, months, or even weeks—she does it within a mere five days. In an updated 2009 edition of her landmark 1979 book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Edwards writes that once a person understands the technical components of drawing, he or she will progress rapidly—as long as they commit to focused practice.

Edwards emphasizes that most people don’t lack drawing skills as many believe they do, but rather seeing skills. She maintains that once she shows her students how to perceive things like edges, spaces, lighting, shadows, and relationships among objects, their ability to draw quickly improves. Here are some examples of the self-portraits her students drew on the first day of her class, and the same students’ drawings on day five.

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