New Problems Require… A 4×4?
I love the personal growth arena. There’s maybe nothing better than when some important realization snaps into place and you know inside that you’re better off for it. But, how does this happen? What’s the mechanism?
When life presents you with a new kind of challenge, it’s impossible to come up with a solution unless you receive new input. You can think of it in this way; throughout your life, you learn to use tools, and you add them to your toolbox as you master them.
As a small child, your toolbox has very few tools. To give a simple example, let’s assume you only have a Phillips head screwdriver in your box. It’s the perfect tool, if you need to drive a Phillips head screw. But, what if you need to pull a nail from a piece of wood? That screwdriver isn’t going to help you, no matter how many times you try to use it.
You need a different tool to solve a different kind of problem
A new kind of problem is like a new kind of puzzle. You might be a master at solving Rubik’s Cube, but that won’t help you with a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. You need to use a different skill set. How about a math equation? Or understanding gravity? Or diagnosing a car that won’t start? Each of these problems requires a different tool (or tools!) to solve.
You need more/new/better/different information to solve new problems. That information doesn’t come from out of the blue. It comes from other people in some way. Maybe you read a great new book.
Or you listen to a speech, sermon, or lesson. Maybe you watch someone else solve a similar issue to your own, and realize you can apply their methods to your situation.
In computer terms (you know your brain is a computer, right?), what’s happening when life throws that new kind of problem at you is that you’re being handed a set of data that is in a format your computer doesn’t recognize. When you try to process that data through your existing programs, the end result is going to be an error message.
The solution is to run a completely different program, or update the existing one to recognize the data available. Translation: get exposed to some new perspectives or new information. Once you upgrade the software, that same computer can solve that new type of problem.
Why do you need to re-learn the lesson?
But, why do you need to keep repeating the lesson? Why do you listen to that podcast interview over and over? Are there new revelations there? At some point, no – how many insights can you pack into 20 minutes? So, why keep consuming the same thing?
The answer is simple: repetition reinforces. When you have a new experience, new neural pathways are created in your brain. That’s all well and good, but unless those new pathways are reinforced, they’ll be neglected. Why? Because, the brain is lazy. It takes the easy way.
Imagine that you have to travel from your home to a location you’ve never been, 200 miles away. It’s a cabin in the woods, and you have a general idea where it is, but not the details of how to find it. How do you get there?
You take the freeway first, because it’s the quickest, easiest, most familiar route to a location near to your destination. But then what? You start to ask around. You check local maps. You watch for signs. At some point, you meet an old guy in a small store who knows exactly how to get to that cabin. He draws you a map, and suggests you rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
From there, you apply the principles of the new tools you just picked up (the map and the Jeep) to chart new territory, creating new, poorly-defined roads until you get to where you’re headed, posting signs for future use along the way.
Neural pathways in the brain that get used a lot are like freeways; wide and fast, and capable of handling huge volumes of traffic. In the brain, a well-traveled road is a well-maintained road; you never forget things you repeat often. And, the more traffic it gets, the bigger and faster it gets.
On the other hand, a neural pathway that goes unused, degrades or goes dormant. At some point, access to that pathway may become difficult, like a dirt road full of ruts and overgrown with weeds. Or, it may become lost completely. A brand new pathway is also in that position. (I’m not a brain scientist, so this may be technically inaccurate. But to illustrate a concept, it works.)
Now, let’s assume that this new life problem is recurring. Maybe it’s related to aging, and it’s not something that can be reversed. The first time it recurrs, you head back to that neural pathway you created, and follow your initial steps.
The trip may be tentative, and you may be checking the map often. But going forward, each time you make the trip, you are more familiar with the route, the path becomes wider and faster, and you have to pay less and less attention to the details, so your autopilot (the unconscious mind) can handle more and more of the work.
We repeat because we forget
All of this travel over the same route reinforces the program you installed to solve the problem, but your biomechanical computer is not proactive. It will do a great job of maintaining pathways, but only when it’s told to do so (when the pathways are used).
This is why you listen to inspirational speakers over and over again, each time recharging that battery of motivation. It’s why you actually need to listen over and over again. If you don’t, you’ll simply forget.
It’s also the process you need to employ if you want to have that experience I mentioned at the very beginning of this article, where some significant realization snaps into place.
That happens when you travel that route enough times that you no longer have to rely on your map or GPS. The autopilot takes over, and you can now turn your attention to the scenery (which is the real reason for the trip!).
When faced with new challenges/problems you need a software upgrade. This means exposing yourself to new information, in order to acquire new tools – a new perspective, a new skill, etc.
In order to improve and maintain your abilities with that new tool, you need to use it again and again, just as the greatest athletes practice the basics of their sports over and over. Without repetition, your skills grow weak.
Want to keep your motivation mojo workin’? Keep listening to the people that charge you up! And think about the ideas they present. You might some day find that other people are getting charged up by the things you say! How cool would that be?