One of the most exciting things to come about this century is the discovery and validation of neuroplasticity: The brain’s capacity to make neurological and structural changes throughout one’s lifetime. Prior to this discovery, it was believed the only time the brain displayed this ability was during the developmental years. Basically, whatever life handed to you during this time period was what you ended up with, not very encouraging news.
Furthermore, it was a long-held belief that talent was innate; you were either gifted or you were not. If you were not one of the chosen few, sucks to be you. And since most us did fall into this category, sucks to be all of us. However, research over the last couple of decades have shown this is a complete fallacy. Neuroscience has discovered we all have the same gift: the ability of the brain to create changes and generate capacities we did not previously possess.
How to change your brain
Through the right type of training, what is defined as “deliberate practice,” we can produce structural and neural changes in the brain that will allow us to develop talents and aptitudes we did not previously possess. The goal now is not to achieve one’s full potential but to create potential that did not exist prior. To a certain extent, the possibilities are limitless. Wait. You say. What about all these gifted and exceptional people throughout history? Are you going to tell me they weren’t born with some genetic advantage? Yes. That is exactly what I am saying, and research will back me up.
If you look closely into the lives of each of these elite performers you will find elements of deliberate practice throughout their formative years. Even though we have the ability to make neuroplastic changes throughout our lifetime, they are particularly powerful when done during our developmental period. From Mozart to Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, you will discover they engaged in the principles of deliberate practice early on.
Talent can be created
There were two groundbreaking studies in the early and mid-twenty first century that created a paradigm shift in what we believed was possible. The first was known as the “perfect pitch” experiment at the Ichionkai Music School in Tokyo reported in the scientific journal Psychology of Music. Ordinarily, roughly one in every ten thousand individuals possesses what is known as perfect pitch, which is the ability to pick out any individual note.
Twenty-four children between the ages of two and six went through a month’s long training program. At the end of the training, all twenty-four children developed perfect pitch. A later study with adults produced the same extraordinary results.
The second influential study was performed by neuroscientist, Eleanor Maguire, at the University College London. This study was performed on individuals who were training to become London cabbies. London streets are more like a labyrinth than an organized street system. It takes years of training and memorizing the complexities of the city to become eligible to take the test to become a cabbie; the majority of the aspiring participants drop out prior to becoming cabbies. Maguire was curious as to whether those who made it had a genetic advantage or their training caused neurological changes that allowed them to acquire the necessary ability to pass the test.
The new science of expertise
The part of the brain that is associated with our explicit, or conscious, memory is called the hippocampus. The brains of the study participants were measured prior to them pursuing their license. What the study revealed was both the individuals who obtained their cabbie licenses and those who did not were the same initially. However, those who had successfully obtained their license had developed markedly larger hippocampi. This study showed verifiable proof that ability can be developed.
There are numerous additional studies that provide us with empirically conclusive evidence that when you engage in certain types of activities, the brain will make neuroanatomical and neurological changes to increase your capabilities to perform the desired outcome. The goal now is not to achieve one’s full potential but to create new potential, achieve it, and create another higher level of possible potential.
This new science of expertise, as Anders Ericcson refers to it in his book, Peak: Secrets of The New Science of Expertise, levels the playing field for all of us. If you have a big enough “Why”, follow the principles of deliberate practice, and put in the necessary hours, you are capable of becoming elite. For those pursuing excellence, personal development, and peak performance, the research now says your possibilities are limitless. Neuroplasticity is the key that will unlock your unlimited potential.
John Hawkins Jr., M.S., L.M.H.C.
John has helped thousands of clients overcome the hidden internal blocks which had kept them from achieving their maximum potential. Furthermore, he has assisted them in gaining clarity of their true life purpose, identifying their gifts and talents, and developing lives of greater meaning and significance.