Updated: Aug 5
Let me help you understand some of the incredible wonders of your brain.
When I was your age, I thought I was dumb because a collection of experiences led me there. However, I was also uneducated about my brain and thought that my intelligence was fixed.
These days, schools are doing a lot more to educate young people about the fact that the brain is always learning, growing and changing (thank goodness and thanks to Carol Dweck who coined the term, Growth Mindset).
I want to explain to you just how much your brain is constantly growing, learning and changing.
Your brain (and my brain) is made up of 100 billion neurons or nerve cells (1). When you are born, only 17% of these are interconnected. Over the next 20 years or so, from crawling to walking to observing your mother eat an ice cream and not share it, to laughing at a joke on the television, your brain forms connections in bursts. Sometimes, your brain will let go of old connections that no longer serve a purpose so that they can build new ones. Get this … the brain you woke up with this morning, is not the same brain that you woke up with yesterday or even the same brain you have right now! (2)
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE BRAIN.
Because of this connection – neural pathway amazingness – the human body can literally do anything that it sets its mind to. This is called neural plasticity. This basically means, your brain builds a pathway and then through practice over and over this pathway becomes second nature. How many times does a baby attempt to walk and fall over on their head, bottom, back, belly, ouch? So, if you have tried surfing 5 times and still don’t get it, keep massaging that neural pathway and making it second nature through repetition and practice. Hence- ‘practice makes perfect' or ‘it’s like riding a bike.’
Once we begin to understand the power of our brain, we can let go of the excuses we create for ourselves.
When we are born into the world our experiences and brain connections are dependent on our primary caregiver and the love and security we feel from that relationship. From birth to 4 years, your brain requires intense social, sensory and emotional regulation to form strong connections with the world around you. It uses the right side of your brain to build neural pathways and connections.
From ages 4-6 years, your brain connections are forming on the left side of your brain where you develop problem-solving skills, and language development and you begin to communicate with words (“you’re not my best friend anymore”).
From ages 6-9, your brain moves back to the right side to build strong social skills, and engage creatively through speech and drama, sensory experiences, curiosity and observations.
From 10 onwards, your brain becomes a ping pong tournament. It bounces from the two hemispheres (the left and the right) to give you the amazing chaotic brain. This allows you to be incredibly creative, passionate, emotional, impulsive and dramatic (woo hoo!!! – we love emotions!). While that seems daunting and overwhelming in itself, the beauty lies in the passion you so naturally hold. This means if there is information that you retain quite easily, nurture that because it is usually a dead giveaway of where your passions lie.
Be cautious about who you share your exciting ideas and dreams with as often it only takes one person to give you a reality check and ruin a magnificent idea.
This chaotic brain is very malleable and magnificent. It makes you
(as tweens and teenagers) more determined and intrinsically motivated than us boring adults.
So, what do you do with all of this information?
Nourishing your brain and its unique brain development:
Think of your brain as a garden, not a flower but a garden. To keep a garden blooming takes love, knowledge, compassion and quality time. The people you invite into your garden will either help it bloom or murder one of your favourite flowers right in front of your eyes!
Be careful who you invite into your garden, Eve.
Once a flower is murdered, your brain (being your bestie) will do everything in its nature to protect you and rebuild you back up. People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. If it is for a reason, learn from it, move on but first and foremost –always protect your garden even if it means putting yourself before others.
Ways you can protect your garden:
1. Hang out with people that make you feel good about yourself – take note of the people that make you laugh, feel comfortable and celebrate your wins. It is better to have 5 good quality friends at your garden party than 20 so-so ones.
2. Take part in creative activities to nourish your developing brain. All teenagers are creative, whether you realise it or not.
3. Exercise and move your body- every day. It is very hard for your flowers to feel confident in their garden if they are not moving and feeling good. Exercise releases endorphins which send happy chemicals to your brain (and remember how much your brain does for you, the least you can do is return the favour).
4. The food you put in your body is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of being a happy person (which by the way is life’s goal). If you eat junk food constantly – you’re going to feel like junk constantly. Buy a cookbook and learn that veggies are fun and delicious and they still count if you sprinkle them with cheese and pasta! 95% of serotonin (another happy chemical for the brain) is created in the gut. Hence why food is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of being a happy person.
5. Water, sleep and sunlight – we are feeding a garden remember!
6. Our brains will try to turn everything into a routine because it doesn't want to think all of the time (I don't blame them!). This is great, if the routines we are doing are healthy, like getting up and going for a run at 5:30 am. However, if we have formed bad habits like playing video games until 2 in the morning, our brains will have formed this circuit loop and make it rather tricky for us to change. If you have a bad habit, catch what it is, challenge it by figuring out why you crave that habit and from there, change/replace the action with someone more worthwhile.
7. Have healthy connections with adults. Your pre-frontal cortex (which helps rationalise decisions) is still developing. Having an adult figure in your life that can act as 'fairy godmother pre-frontal cortex' is SUPER HELPFUL. We all need someone in our life that doesn't tell us what to do but guides us there by going through the reasoning process with us. Kind of like doing a math problem-solving question and showing you the working out.
8. Partake in positive ‘risky’ behaviour – okay so, I am talking about things like surfing, trying out for a new sports team or public speaking. Activities like these help build confidence and allow us to practice feeling out of our comfort zone. When we aren't practising being out of our comfort zone enough, we can experience things like anxiety. It is really good for the brain to feel challenged and a little uncomfortable, as the more we do it, the more we realise our capabilities and limits. The more times we practice healthy risks, the most we get used to managing our emotions like worry, nerves and anxiety.
The brain is a wonderful, complex, yet simple piece of machinery. It requires love, nourishment, routine and change. The most important thing to always remember is, that you have the capacity and ability to be excellent at any skill you set your mind to. It won't happen overnight, but it sure can happen after repetition, repetition... REPETITION.
Practice really does make perfect.
1. Sheehan, M & Pearce, S (2012) Wired for Life: Retrain Your Brain and Thrive Australia: Hay House
2. Carr- Gregg, M (2006) Princess Bitchface Syndrome Australia: Penguin Group