Why Change What Appears Unbroken?

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Most people are aware that healthy brains flex frequently, rewire daily and respond to  differences in ways that spawn growth. Lesser known however, is the fact that our flexibility peters out often before mental changes actually jump-start.  Unfortunately, we risk sliding into a cerebral gridlock or resistance to change, when we operate one part of the brain and ignore another.

How do you handle changes that disrupt the way you typically write, speak or act?

That question reminds me of blueberry picking episodes as a kid back in Nova Scotia. We were promised that if we picked a large bucket full of berries, we’d enjoy our favorite blueberry dumpling for dessert. We sweated for hours to fill that pail as we suffered scratches from thorns along with mosquito bites and gnats galore.  I’ll admit to our slipping the odd handful into our mouths to beat the summer heat. Then came the surprise….

On several occasions a black bear would lumber out from behind fir trees in what appeared to be a deliberate ambush to hijack our hard-earned near-full bucket of loot.

Our dumpling dessert dreams disappeared instantly. Fat, juicy berries would get tossed toward the bear’s direction, and we kids raced one another back home, empty-handed. OK, perhaps our sudden “change of strategy” is a bit of a stretch to illustrate mental flexibility here, since the bear presented a compelling case for instantly abandoning our hard work. But what about everyday risks we run from? When asked the one thing most regretted in life, a large group of seniors interviewed, admitted overwhelmingly, “I wish I’d taken more risks.”

Each time we run from change, our brain’s default system or basal ganglia kicks in as an inner mental force in opposition to change. Unless we’re running from bears, it’s likely not a good idea to allow this comfort zone of sorts to dominate. We see its tragic results in opinionated peers who insist  on one pre-determined reaction, regardless of new information offered. It may not be a hulking bear barrier, but frequent forces that require a new blueprint will likely appear at times we least expect.

Think of the basal ganglia as a mental warehouse of sorts, where all our actions, both good and bad, stockpile and sit ready for reuse. Our basal ganglia’s also a bit like the elephant in the room, a stubborn elephant at that. Its comfort zone qualities make it easy to pull up tired, broken or outdated responses that can dose an innovative challenge like an icy water spray hits us without notice.!Basal Ganglia

Let’s say we fail to listen in ways that show we are open to be changed by the person who speaks to us. Each time we speak above peers or interrupt friends, or fail to hear concerns of those who differ, we amplify our brain’s basal ganglia or inability to change. It takes knowing how your brain can work against change and against growth, to avoid stubborn ruts that hold us back with regrets, like seniors expressed in interviews.

Luckily when we do slip, and we all do, there’s no need to remain in any rut. No need to get caught holding an empty bucket in a bear chase.

We can simply outsource our working memory by practices such as creating cheat sheets to jot down memorable facts, and our awesome brains will use these facts to create new neuron pathways beyond former potholes. Avoid static routines that increase dangerous cortisol chemicals that fuel status quo, and we reboot serotonin fuels for fun and adventure!

Spot a brain’s need to regenerate to a better place

Here’s how it works. At the center of most ruts  lies your brain’s basal ganglia storage of perhaps annoying habits of sarcasm that insults peers, for instance.

Simply use working memory abilities to transform old habits.  Let’s say we exchange these sarcasm or cynicism behaviors for a hilarious joke that everybody can join in the laughter. In other words, with a simple choice, working memory can convert mean-spirit into kind, failure into success, and toxins for fear into talents for renewal.

Expect a bit of a tug-of-war where the basal ganglia tugs for traditional and familiar settings, and working memory pulls for innovation or adventure. Have you seen it?

Risk-takers and people who surf the cutting edges of possibilities, simply override the brain’s basal ganglia default daily.  In surprisingly straightforward ways, they engage in mental fitness within their working memory and learn to release brain chemicals that override mental ruts. How so?

Use more working memory to create, and you’ll also keep your brain fueled and rolling forward. My graduate students love to engage their multiple intelligences in new and innovative ways that improve their workplace, for instance. Through changing up outmoded or broken approaches, they override basal ganglia ruts and leap over rigid routines in favor of fun and new leadership adventures. In the course, Lead Innovation with the Brain in Mind, students report mind-bending results from their efforts to use more working memory.

Which side of the brain do you favor?

Which side of the chart below do you live daily? Do you act more from basil ganglia – to the left?  Or is your day fueled more by working memory to the right of the chart?

It’s quite phenomenal if you think about an average brain’s ability to rebound from ruts, or reboot for rejuvenation.

The working memory’s capacity may be tiny,  yet it holds sizzling details you can apply to solve problems. While you can count facts stored on one hand, luckily working memory grows bigger with use. Think of it as your brain’s save key.  Just as your computer’s save key dumps old data to pick up new facts,  your working memory displaces current facts with newer details as fast as doughnuts disappear in Monday morning staff rooms. An uncomfortable place, working memory alerts you to apply its unfamiliar and innovative facts to spark creative changes. As with your computer save key – it’s a do-it-now or lose-it-now choice.

Help others use more working memory and they begin to create

Consider the following facts about basal ganglia and working memory, to help others avoid bad habits, side-step routines,  and experience life-changing learning adventures. I like to start with one basic reality that encourages more risk-taking.

If we fail to engage working memory, we risk sliding into mental gridlocks. We find ourselves resisting change to our detriment. The opposite is also true. Operate the brain’s power-tools for wonder and curiosity for instance, and we isolate and reduce basal ganglia brain parts that lock us into ruts.

Use these approaches to build new neuron pathways that bridge the difference between mental rejuvenation and stubborn ruts. How will these brain facts about working memory help your students override basal ganglia ruts and make a difference today?

Looking for more learner-ready materials to capitalize on your working memory to create innovative learning adventures? Find practical brain based and working memory resources at my TPT site.

Related tool: Yearly planner with brain boosters and prompts to reboot your brain so that you tap and develop hidden and unused capabilities.


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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset