Man kicking a soccer ball.In today’s world, with its constant social and cultural shifts, if you sometimes feel like you’re in over your head, it may be because you are—literally.

Synapses connect neurons or nerve cells in the brain, passing chemical signals along the network that makes thought, memory and learning possible.The brains we have were developed in the primeval forest, and they’re very good at figuring out things like who’s my enemy, what’s food and where can I mate,” said Professor Kathleen Taylor, an internationally recognized authority on adult learning who teaches in the Educational Leadership Program.

“While that was adequate for the world that was, it is not adequate for the world that is, and completely inadequate for the world that is becoming,” she said.

Luckily, we can train our brain so that it grows past what developmental psychologists call the “socialized mind” of young adulthood, when we try to meet society’s expectations, to the mature, “self-authoring mind,” where we discover a new way of thinking.

But first we have to buck the brain’s default modes, like the tendency to make distinctions between our kind and not our kind, Taylor said. Moreover, in the forest, the brain needed to make life-or-death decisions very quickly. “But this is a very different, global, interactive world where we have to understand how to transcend our tribalism and tolerate ambiguity,” Taylor said.

How can we do that? The key is to break out of your routine, which will build new neural pathways in the brain. Or, in Taylor’s words: “We need to jiggle our synapses.”

 

How To Train Your Brain

  1. Take a class. Adult education can challenge your assumptions.
  2. Immerse yourself in new environments. If you go to Hawaii every year, visit Mexico—or India.
  3. Meditate, or pray. Both activities can rewire the brain.
  4. Exercise, or dance. Physical activity builds new synaptic connections.
  5. Try psychotherapy—not to understand why you are the way you are but to learn a new way of being.
  6. Talk with friends, family, new acqaintances. Social networks build neural pathways.
  7. Learn about adult development so you have a road map to your brain’s future.
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