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What Putting Together an IKEA Chair Can Do for Your Brain

Lifelong Learning

What does Lifelong Learning mean to you? Do you think of taking formal classes in person or online? Maybe you think of traveling and learning new customs and languages. What if I told you that every single day you are learning something, and when you get intentional about it, it expands and preserves your ability to think, create, form memories and hang onto them?

My mother always said that she’d always be of sound mind because she worked a crossword puzzle every day. While crosswords are great, if you’ve done one every day for 60+ years, it’s probably not much of a stretch for you. Now, if you tried to do Sudoku … that would be a stretch!

The key to keeping things fresh and exciting is to get yourself frustrated now and again. When I hear Boomers say that they have no interest in learning “those danged smart phones.” My response? It’s one of the best things you could do for your brain!” Getting out of our comfort zone and feeling stupid is exceptionally good for our brains as long as we push through.

Every time you push yourself to figure something out, like how to send an email, open an app, order from Amazon or send a text (to the right person), you are building new neuro pathways. For those who find technology easy, putting together a chair from IKEA or putting in a new doorknob or dead bolt might be the challenge. It’s about what’s new for you.

You know those things you do without thinking? Making the coffee, brushing your teeth, following the route to work or the gym every day? Maybe it’s the order in which you put on your pants or socks and shoes on autopilot. Well, here’s some happy food for your brain: change it! Yes! Move the coffee to another cabinet, put your toothbrush in a different space, choose a different route, and put the left foot in your pants first instead of the right!

Just like water, our brains use the path of least resistance, and that is the neural pathway that you developed early in life. According to Deborah Ancona, Professor of Management & Organizational Studies at MIT, “By the time we get to the age of 25, we just have so many existing pathways that our brain relies on, it’s hard to break free of them.”

When your brain is young, it’s much more flexible which makes it easier to learn, but even though we’re no longer 25, we can still learn, and doing so imparts great benefits. It’s about using your brain in new ways rather than the comfort of the pathways we created when we were young. If you use math regularly, but rarely read, you might want to build a habit of reading, and vice versa. If you love to read but aren’t comfortable delving into science or math, sign up for a class that pushes you to use your brain in a new way.

Building the new pathways doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why we often take on a challenge, then quit when we are tired or too busy thinking, “I’ll just do this the easy way tonight because I had a stressful day.” The new neural pathway isn’t deeply ingrained to stick, so it becomes even harder the next day. If you want to build that pathway, support your brains youthful plasticity, you must persevere despite wanting to fall back into your comfort zone. (Sorry)

Many colleges around the country offer classes at a reduced rate. In some cases, there is a needs-based assessment, but often the only requirement is that you are 50+ years old. In Johnson County, Kansas the Community College allows those aged 60+ to take credit classes for $16/semester hour. There is a special enrollment date, and you have to have a current admissions application on file.

So, to wrap up, give yourself permission to explore something new and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen overnight. Just keep at it … your brain will thank you!

In Case You Missed It (ICYMI): It seems we all have a need to simplify, but how do we do that without losing the memories we’ve attached to our precious things? Check it out here!

And, if you’d like to check out what the blog is about, what categories I’m going to include, and why, check out the blog introduction here.

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