You may have heard it said that the brain is a muscle. This is quoted by people who believe that like muscles, if you exercise them they get bigger, or the more you use your brain the stronger it becomes.
It is not a muscle but it behaves as a muscle. Strictly speaking and at the physical level, the brain is an organ, the most important one. However, there are some theories that describe the brain as a muscle in the sense that it can be trained to improve different cognitive functions like working memory or math skills. Maybe here is where the confusion appears. The fact is that new evidence shows the brain can be developed and function like a muscle. The main claim is “the more you use it the stronger it gets”.
There is evidence that backs up that claim. Frequent learners find learning easier, and those who stagnate with learning will find all learning difficult.
Why Not Learn?
It’s hard work, many people don’t like hard work, it’s far easier to do nothing.
Or, there are some at the top of their field, maybe they already know all there is to know about it. (unlikely, everyone can improve)
The Benefits of Learning
Many aspects of learning a skill are not specific to that skill. An example being, learning to balance. Once it’s learned, it can be utilised for other uses than the original skill. If the skill has a broad set of demands balance, skill, coordination, observation, hand to eye, stance skills and body management etc those will benefit in many other ways. Another example being, a trained gymnast will find modern dance moves easy to learn, and it’s documented that gymnasts and ballet dancers find learning to ski or snowboard quite easy.
How to Learn
Learning itself is a skill to be learned, that sounds like a contradiction, but the ability to see a task, one that’s currently unachievable and break that down in manageable sub tasks, that once learned can be reassembled to the original goal is one that does not come naturally to many.
We all suffer from information overload, some people see this in tasks they cannot achieve, learned learners, see the task and sub task it.
We all know people who seem to be good at everything they do. The fact is, that those people simply know how to learn and have accumulated so many skills from previous tasks that are useful for the one they are currently working on.
An example is the musician who plays 10 instruments, the common skills being understanding a rhythm and reading music. These are ingrained so that the learner purely has to learn how to manipulate the instrument to make the sound they already know.
Practice Makes Perfect
No it does not!
Practice makes permanent! Practising something badly, makes those bad habits last forever, and it is more difficult to remove a bad habit than it is to prevent it being ingrained to begin with.
Examples of this, are when people are given some tuition, they then take time alone to practice, they will ALWAYS find an easier way to do the task than the way prescribed by the instructor, those ways will become fixed bad habits.
The answer to this is to take frequent refreshers with the tutor, or peer tutor with a friend learning the same task.
Criticism or Critique?
One final comment! NONE of us like being criticised. We put up mental blocks and form aggressive feelings towards those telling us something’s not right.
Criticism is negative. Critique is positive.
Even though both may sound the same at the time! If you bake a cake and someone says “could do with more lemon” Is that a negative about your cooking abilities? Or is it a positive about how to improve the next cake you bake?