Keep improving

Whatever your age, you can go on learning new skills. You can take up new hobbies, or have a change in career.

You may not have been the cleverest kid at school or college, and you may think that you are past the stage of learning new skills, but that is only your perception. Scientists who study the brain say that this is not the case. Even at the age of sixty-five it is not an age to sit around or potter in the garden. We are now living fifteen to twenty years longer than previous generations, so why waste these precious years worrying about ill health when you have less responsibility.

Think about how much you achieved in the first twenty-five years of your life - why waste the last precious years? Your mind never stops working, it is working every second, and if you recognise that you can go on learning you can unlock your true potential.

Learning new skills
Confidence can be a factor when learning new skills. Sometimes the young are blessed with the confidence that comes with youth, but it is the same for anyone wanting to learn a new skill. To learn a new skill requires some restructuring within the brain. The nerve cells in the brain make connections using electrical impulses. To acquire a new skill, a signal has to pass a gap between two brain cells. The first trip across is the hardest, but having done it once, the following trips become easier and easier. So, to start learning how to do something new can be difficult at first, but if we practice it over and over again it becomes effortless. When you master a new skill, you gain a wonderful sense of achievement.

In an interesting trial run by Oxford University, a group of slow-learning children were given a dose of cod liver oil every day and within six weeks their learning capacity had been found to improve considerably. From being bored and disinterested in their lessons, they became enthusiastic and keen. This is thought to be because of the presence of Omega-3 in cod liver oil, which makes it easier for the brain cells to receive new signals. Our grandmothers always told us that fish was good for the brain. So, it may really be worth investing in some cod liver oil capsules for the kids - and for you too, as it is good for the joints.

Visualisation
Scientists have discovered that if we want to learn a new skill, for example in gymnastics, if we can watch someone else perform the move, we can introduce the mind to the new movements. Once the mind can visualise the move, the body will follow the mind. If you keep going through the new move in your mind, you are creating links in the brain, which form a pathway; so that when you attempt to perform the move for real, the brain has already made the connection. Visualisation has created a strong enough pathway in the brain for the body to respond to it for real. Each time you perform the new move it becomes more automated and you need to think about it less.

I tried this technique with my nine year old son who could not master his backhand for tennis. I showed him many times, what he was supposed to be doing, and we talked each movement through thoroughly. A few days later, his tennis coach was amazed, "Where has this backhand come from?" she asked.

Ability to learn new facts
We all assume that as we grow older our memory fades, but this is not necessarily the case. We can go on learning as long as our mind is kept stimulated and we retain our sense of curiosity.

Test your memory
When we commit a fact to memory we create a neural pathway to it from a root of brain cells to wherever that memory is stored in our brain. To retrieve the fact, you have to trigger the same pathway back to the place where that fact is stored. Some children develop good techniques for recalling facts; they find a way that works for them early on, and once they have the confidence and technique for recalling a fact that works for them, they repeat it to help them with their exams. Once you have a technique, it takes you beyond what you could do naturally.

Try this technique - 20 words to remember
Wash cat, jet mad, actress marmalade, van clock, bucket sand, egg window, kennel tomato, banana dress, flower apron, dog chair - all completely unrelated words. Picture the words in pairs in different locations around your house. Make a journey around the house in a particular order. For example, begin your journey in the hall and picture the first two words - a cat washing itself. Move on to the next room in your mind and visualise the next two words - a jet flying around the room going mad. Remember each room you are in when you thought about each pair of words and work around the house in order, memorising two words in each room. Spend about five minutes doing this to fix the pattern in your mind. At the end of the day, or even the following day, have someone test you, and you will find that you have recalled the complete list of twenty words. By creating a simple story to remember the facts, you are creating several pathways back to where the memories are stored in the brain. By using a story, we make it easier for ourselves to remember facts.
By taking up new interests and hobbies, we are keeping our brains active and young. If you want to take up a new hobby or skill, go for it; it is never too late.

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