There is a lot of information out there about the Fixed vs Growth Mindset. If you haven’t heard of it, Google it. There are pages on pages of fascinating studies, articles, Ted Talks. There is something there for everyone. It all makes sense as a concept as we struggle to learn new things as we get older…or try to understand why our kids aren’t working as hard as we think they are capable of. A phrase that keeps coming up in these studies is: Brain Plasticity (or Neuropasticity.)
Here is a definition I found: Brain plasticity (from the Greek word ‘plastos’ meaning molded) refers to the extraordinary ability of the brain to modify its own structure and function following changes within the body or in the external environment.
Isn’t that inspiring? As my family has learned quite a lot about brain injury this year, we have come to think of the brain as something injurable….as well as healable. When the idea of the BRAIN comes up, we often think of Vernon first. He’s become a bit of a mascot that way. We watch him, expecting to see this great miracle…the brain recovering its own memory, his being able to grasp such once-easy things as speech, swallowing, walking, remembering.
Maki and I just finished a long homework session. He had to write an essay for Science class, not his favorite subject. I also am not great at sitting through a homework session. Maki was distractible. (Did you know that Wombats poop cubes? Neither did I.) I was tired from fielding medical-field calls and life in general. But we did it. We pushed through…it took three hours to write a page, but it is finished. I hope Maki could feel his brain growing. We talked about the growth mindset (again) and how if your head hurts while you are working, that is a sign that it is getting bigger. It’s like working out the body: SO much easier to work the ‘fun’ areas that are already more or less in shape but we (I mean, I) avoid working the areas that have gotten weak. Ouch!
In other words, if you are trying to learn something new, and you feel frustrated, stick with it. Push through it. Something is starting to work. Your brain is growing. Feel the burn!
Maki didn’t need my intellectual help (what do I know about the chemistry lab?) as much as he needed the moral support. He needed to know he wasn’t in this black hole of homework alone, that he didn’t have to face his growth-headache alone. I guess I can relate with that, it wasn’t easy for me either. Neuroplasticity is better with friends.
The last two weeks, in the midst of Vernon’s transition to Mesa Verde and his next stage of recovery, I too have been growing my brain. Not just growing, but RE-growing, as I re-visit some old areas that used to work more smoothly. About 6 months ago, I worked on a mural for Tanya and Bob, which was incredibly rewarding. But my brain has gotten rusty in the mural-making area since then. I have a vision but I’m working so much more slowly than before, its as if I’ve aged ten years in just a few months. Harder to focus, harder to keep the greater vision. It’s shocking to me, as so far everything else has been holding up (or so I tell myself.) This kind of work once came so easily to me. Do brain injuries rub off on family members?
Instead of merely feeling exhausted, I should be thinking: Wow! Isn’t that great that a kind-of-middle-aged human brain can still be growing? Its what we expect from Vernon, after all. And he has so much further to go. This is a family growth. If Vernon can do it, so can Maki and I. If Maki can do it, so can I. If Vernon can do it, so can Maki. I’m not sure what Vernon’s examples are. But we are taking ours from him.
PS Don’t worry, Bob and Tanya, if you are reading this…we’ve come around the bend today…and I know exactly where we are going with the mural. Thank you for trusting me despite my pace. Your wall is safe in my hands! (I wouldn’t write this if I weren’t sure of it!) Thankfully they know exactly where where I am coming from: Tanya is in the end stages of radiation therapy now….and getting her brain (and everything else) back better than ever.