Earlier today I was reading in the Soft-Wired book about how our brains are plastic not just to support good growth, but unfortunately to also support wrong assumptions that we have about ourselves. For instance, people who constantly say they are not good at something — apparently the brain somehow takes that as an instruction and creates the brain conditions to make that true by putting a halt to all activity in that area.
It’s like people who say they are not athletic. If people focus on repeating movements, i.e, golf or some other activity, they then build the brain pathways required to do the action. It doesn’t matter if the desired result is successfully completing a mental or physical activity — the brain is intrinsically involved.
An interesting point in the book is that many things that we think of as physical deterioration, such as poor balance or lack of coordination, are actually demonstrating problems with the brain that directs all those actions. So when we notice things on the physical side, it’s often a sign that the brain is having trouble in those areas: everything physical is actually facilitated by our brains.
If someone repeats over and over that s/he is not a math/language/athletic person, it creates the brain conditions for that to be true. Perhaps we are born with specific wiring in place for us to have an easier time dealing with certain topics (school, athletics, organizing…) and we then focus our energy on that area since it requires the least effort. All those other areas are left un[der]developed.
So, how do we “upgrade” these unused areas? Well, after a stroke, people are advised to exercise their weaker side to allow the brain to build and then make permanent those links that will allow them to gradually gain better control over that side — it actually slows or stops recovery if someone continues to use his/her stronger side. Practice, practice, practice…