Sometimes in college you’re required to take courses you’d never otherwise think to study. That was me with educational psychology. You know what? I’m so glad I was forced to expand my horizons. Every week I’m learning something intensely interesting and completely new.
This week the subject was how we learn. It delved into different areas of psychology, but the one that really caught my attention was how our brains build neurological pathways to increase how much and which kind of knowledge our brains can hold.
Until recently, scientists thought we were born with all the synaptic connections we would ever have. It was only possible to lose these connections via pruning, and impossible to build new ones. But recent studies have revealed that this hypothesis was incorrect. When we’re kids, we have way too many synapses. They’re all waiting to be stimulated, and the ones that are will stick around. But the ones that aren’t will be pruned. This is called the experience-expectant process.
What’s even more amazing is that as adults, we have the ability to continue building these synapses through a process labelled experience-dependent. The incredible part of this process is that it actually requires failure. When we are introduced to something we do not understand or are incapable of processing, our neurons start firing and creating new pathways. If we continue to try in the area we have failed in, we will build new pathways in our brain, increasing our capabilities to learn in that area. If we face failure and give up, those new synapses will be pruned.
Sometimes as adults, when we face material that’s too unfamiliar or challenging we quit. We drop the course. We change majors. We don’t have someone there pushing us like we did in first grade telling us that we can do it. That if we won’t do it, we’ll simply have to repeat a grade. We are able to give ourselves permission to quit, so we do. We are denying ourselves knowledge, growth and the ability we truly do have to succeed. We’re pruning ourselves rather than expanding all the ways we could succeed.
Beyond the Classroom
It can be scary sometimes when we’re out in the real world to try new things; to take on new risks. The biggest thing blocking our way is our fear of failure. When we understand how our brains work, that being unsuccessful at something is simply the first step to building those synapses and mastering it, suddenly that fear is allowed to dissipate. The next time you find yourself staring the prospect of failure in the face, tell it to BRING IT ON.