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Wednesday, May 8, 2013


For the past nine years plus I have either jogged or walked at least 2 or 3 mornings a week on the National Mall here in Washington DC.  During this time I've seen a lot of changes take place: festival and concert venues go up and down, presidential inauguration stands constructed and taken down, capitol Christmas trees appear and disappear, and seasons come and go.   One common occurrence is for temporary fences to be periodically placed around grassy areas to restore the turf.   There is one particular place between the Capitol reflecting pool and The Mall that people use as a shortcut path.  Annually, usually in early Spring, fences go up to prevent people from taking this shortcut.  However, as soon as the fences come down, people reestablish the dirt, and often muddy, path.

This year a surprising thing happened.  The fences did not go up around this particular path.  Instead the path was groomed with fresh wood chips.   The persistence of the people finally prevailed.

I'm reminded by this of recent studies in neuroscience of the characteristic of the human brain called neuroplasticity.  Simply put, the brain is maleable and is literally changed by repetitive activity.  Of course anyone who ever memorized a multiplication table or the Gettysburg Address knows this.

In a recent interview with Krista Tippett, neuropsychologist Rex Jung says:

The important thing is they're doing a very new thing in a concerted way. And their brain says, hey, if we're going to be doing this thing in the environment over and over and over, I'm going to build tissue to do that so that we can do it easier and more efficiently. So if you're going to be creative, pick one thing, get a lot of experience in that one thing, and do it over and over and over.

Just as our bodies become what we eat, our minds become what we think and do.  So, if the things we do and think literally shape our brains, which in turn determines our perspective on the world, wouldn't we be wise to pay more attention to what we are doing and thinking?      

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