HAVE YOU EVER WISHED YOU could learn something new?
Perhaps you wanted to understand the computer or your iPhone better. Or to learn how to change a flat tire. Or you’ve wished you could develop a new skill such as public speaking, playing a musical instrument, speaking a new language, becoming more efficient at your job, or giving a Bible study.
Maybe you’ve longed to try something just to bring joy and relaxation into your life, like a new hobby.
Many of us are acquainted with the phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” which usually implies the human adult brain cannot process and absorb new information like that of an impressionable child’s brain. As a result, we’re tempted to think that there’s no use putting in time and effort to become a student once again.
SHE LEARNED TO READ AT 90
Priscilla Sitienei, a midwife from Ndalat in rural Kenya, grew up in an era when primary schooling was not available for girls. All during her growing up years and her busy adult experience of raising 10 children and caring for community women, she longed to be able to read and write. The desire continued just as intensely during her senior years until the age of 90. She was then finally allowed to enroll in classes at the local school, along with six of her great-grandchildren, creating quite a sensation within the chool, her family, and community circles.
Current studies by psychologists and neuroscientists now reveal that the brain is indeed amazingly capable of learning and mastering new skills at any age, even at 90 years old.
YOUR BRAIN WAS BUILT FOR CHANGE
Learning a new skill has a definite effect on the brain. Simply put, when impacted with new information, the brain responds by creating new neuron connections, thus replacing some that we lose over time. In addition to new connections, contacts between existing neural pathways can be made stronger or weaker. Myelin—a fatty substance in the brain that signals and enhances movement between connections in the neurons— is increased, thus improving and strengthening those new connections. Myelin efficiency is enhanced when a new experience is repeated or practiced a number of times. These changes are called “brain plasticity.” Like plastic, over time the brain can be molded into many different shapes based on the new information and stimuli it’s exposed to.
On the other hand, research also shows that by not stimulating the brain periodically with new information, by not engaging in new experiences, individuals can become
bored and lethargic. Over time, this can lead to potential health problems. Heart disease rates can increase to more than double compared with people who do not report chronic boredom. Brain function can also slow down, which can encourage the early onset of dementia diseases.
The more we learn during our lifetime, the more “plastic” the brain becomes, thus maintaining and enhancing our overall cognitive, social, psychological, and physical health.
OTHER BENEFITS WORTH CONSIDERING
Learning and mastering something new brings added quality and joy to life. It:
1. Lessens stress by reducing our focus on complicated life routines and patterns. Life becomes more interesting and full.
2. Improves mental health by providing a satisfying sense of achievement.
3. Develops service abilities. We can become more effective in helping others within our church and community.
4. Improves socializing, as we now have new skills and experiences to share.
5. Increases our sense of fun and joy, not only in discovering what we are capable of achieving but also in broadening our understanding of new subjects.
6. Improves memory. The act of learning and repeating something new can aid in improving our overall recall ability.
7. Inspires others by setting an example. Enthusiasm and excitement are contagious, and our story of achievement can inspire and encourage others.
MANY OPPORTUNITIES ARE AVAILABLE
Classes in a multitude of topics are available online, at local schools or colleges, from community organizations, and from private instructors. Reading is another way to learn new skills and stay current on the latest ideas. Attend a lecture; visit a museum; or join a craft class, book club, or Bible study class. Or sign up with a tour group.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Henry Ford
THE REST OF THE STORY
Priscilla Sitienei, now 92, and her great-grandchildren are attending the Leaders Vision Preparatory School near Ndalat, where she is described as a model student. She participates in all student activities, even physical education classes.
She has her own special dorm room with a sign above the door that reads: “Education has no age limit.” She encourages both boys and girls in the school to study faithfully and do their best. The students love her and especially enjoy the stories she tells them. There is a constant friendly competition between her and her young classmates for the best grades, and often, to their amazement (and embarrassment), she outdoes them all.
Priscilla’s goal is to be able to read her Bible and learn how to write down the herbal remedies and techniques she uses when delivering babies. She also strives to inspire children and adults everywhere to take advantage of educational opportunities.
Probably most of us are leading very busy lives, which means our brains are already overloaded with the information we need just to get through the day. So if we are doing
all right, why bother trying to learn something new?
Besides keeping the mind active and sharp, there is also that satisfying sense of self-worth that results from achievement. Feelings of joy and wonder are experienced as new worlds open up before us—renewing appreciation and gratitude to our loving heavenly Father, the source of all true knowledge and blessings.
As we age, it doesn’t matter if we move more slowly, don’t hear as well, and take a little longer to absorb new information. Just think of Priscilla Sitienei, and be encouraged
to never stop learning and never stop growing.