August 23, 2006
Using Your Brain For A Change: Final Note
We have reviewed the importance of understanding the relationship of mind to brain in a new way, one that emphasizes the active role mind has in actually shaping the physiological organization of the brain. The positive fallout from such a comprehension is most relevant in the areas of human behavior. We can change our habits and inclinations; we can free ourselves from obsessions and compulsions. We can release old perspectives and build new structures of meaning and capabilities.
What it takes is work! You have to want change very much to move against the tide of the way you have put yourself together over these many years. Despite the obvious discomforts and negative outcomes of the way we are in many instances, we are still more comfortable simply going with the flow of being that way, rather than standing against the momentum of our habitual selves and turning the big ship of our ways of being around. Think metaphorically of your brain as a large cruise ship. You can't turn that giant around on a dime. But when you are convinced that a change is worth the effort, you can begin to turn the wheel, so to speak, and slowly alter course.
Eventually, with high motivation and persistence, you will win the day and set out in directions much more congenial to how you want your human destiny to play out. There are further implications to understanding the brain from the point of view I have been proposing here. We all know, especially those of us who are crossing over the border into our senior years, how tricky it can be to preserve the sharpness and nimble-wittedness of our earlier years. Yet, there is nothing inevitable about our loss of mental acuity. Studies have shown that well into our oldest age periods, we are capable of retaining the knowledge, memory and ability to creatively and usefully apply them to everyday life and to our career interests and hobbies.
Yes, many of us continue to work without missing a beat well beyond the so-called "retirement" years. Retirement is fast becoming a myth and a rarity even when someone is fortunate enough to be able to actually fully stop working. No, for most older people, some work, if not full time work, is both necessary and desirable.
Remember what I said in this series in earlier columns, attention is everything. Attention is the honing stone of the mind. By focusing attention with purpose, direction and intensity every day of your life, you are literally sharpening the edges of the mind into an instrument of high utility and value for yourself and your community. What is critical is to keep attentive to the kinds of information and intellectual challenges that will sustain that edge. Read, read, read, read! Stretch your mind. Don't be satisfied with the mere pabulum of canned news and sound bites.
I was at a conference a few weeks ago and an old, (yes, old that way, too) friend of mine made the comment in a presentation that he never bothered to read a book he could easily understand. No fun to that. Take on the challenges of working your mind by creating focused attention and developing the motivation and interests that support it and you will be a treasure to yourself and to those around you. A brain is a terrible thing to waste, at any age. Let me know what you think!
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a licensed mental health counselor, life and marital coach with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.