Maintaining Practicing

Neuroplasticity: Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

I’m sure you’ve heard that saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  It suggests that, as we age, it’s harder and harder for people to change and learn new things. Well, scrap that, because psychologists have discovered that precisely the opposite is true.

Neuroplasticity describes the brain’s ability to change and rewire itself based on new experiences across our lifetime. This is quite a revolutionary discovery as it contradicts previously held views of the brain as a more rigid structure. Neuroscientists used to believe that the brain stopped developing in adolescence. However, research has shown that our brains are actually far more malleable than was initially thought, and this has exciting implications for people of all ages.

Another way to explain neuroplasticity is to say that it’s the capacity of our brain cells to change in response to our behavior. As we engage with an activity or repeat a behavior, our brain begins to build new connections around this experience and the more we repeat the experience the stronger our neural pathways around this become. This is how people become “skilled” at something; athletes are a good example of neuroplasticity in action. If you look at the likes of Serena Williams, it’s only by practicing her tennis game relentlessly, that she was able to become a world-class champion. During her training, neuroplasticity was helping her to hone her craft. Now although not many of us have excelled to the same feats of sporting champions, we are all still experiencing neuroplasticity every day, even though we’re not conscious of it. Even during tasks that might not seem “a big deal” like cooking a new recipe, driving a new route to work, or beginning a meditation practice, our brains are making new connections.

And the good news is that we can actually “exploit” this naturally occurring process to our advantage. We can purposely select and guide our behavior towards activities that will increase our personal wellbeing and even our happiness.

So on a practical level, what this means is that, if there is something that you would like to become better at or a skill that you wish to master, with dedicated practice and repetition it’s never too late, and you can do it!

If, for instance, you wish to become a calmer, more relaxed person, beginning a regular meditation practice can help you to achieve this. It is through neuroplasticity that meditation causes the well-documented changes in the brain over time that cause people to feel more centered.

Tips to maximize your neuroplastic potential

  • Choose something that you would like to learn. It must be something new to you and NOT all that easy for you to learn. Novelty and challenge are key components for neuroplasticity to occur.
  • The skill or task should have some meaning to you; neuroplastic change occurs best when we feel rewarded for carrying out the new behavior.
  • Repetition and intensity: we need to repeat the skill or task regularly and specifically focus on learning it.
  • Be patient. Neuroplastic changes do take time, but before you know it you will notice incremental changes towards your goal.

-Catherine Smith

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Other Posts You Might Like

Catherine is a writer and coach based in Belfast, Northern Ireland and was the Director's Assistant on Game of Thrones (GOT). After working with the writers and director's on GOT, and being included in an Emmy award, Catherine was inspired to embark on her own writing career; she is passionate about all things related to personal development, mindful living, and dance. You can follow some of her work at or contact her on Facebook.

0 comments on “Neuroplasticity: Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)

Now with Purpose
%d bloggers like this: