Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Meta-Cognition:Thinking about Thinking

              Recent studies have overturned the long held belief that as you get older your brain gets weaker and more inefficient. The brain does not get worse with age; bad habits erode the mind. New brain cells are constantly being grown in the hippocampus and the brain is always building new pathways.

  The brain is like a muscle. With use it will grow stronger. With disuse it will atrophy. Unlike many other organs of the body, it never wears out, but it does fade out from lack of stimulus. 

Many people find themselves trapped after brain injury. Trapped in a body with a brain that cannot do what it used to. So they sit and wait to get better. Unfortunately, that’s not how brain injury recovery works. Brain injury recovery is work. The work doesn’t have to be unpleasant, but it must be fairly consistent. It is only by dogged determination that limitations can be overcome.

A word about limitations: Limitations aren’t permanent. Limitations are markers that say how far you’ve gone in the past. They say nothing about the future except how much further you have left to go. View your limitations as the highest rung you’ve ever reached on a ladder. You can always try to go one rung higher.

At any point in your recovery you may not get any better. The Doctors really can’t give the families or the victims of brain injury any definite answers to the questions “How long till I get better?” and “Will I regain this or that ability?” They can not wave a magic wand or give you a magic drug that will make you whole again

Take control of your brain’s functions. Accept that your brain is an amazing organ and that you can make it better and stronger. How good and how strong is up to you. You can always improve, but there may be a point of diminishing returns. You must decide how you want to proceed.

Your brain can be very obedient. It will do what you ask of it. Program your brain to perform a certain task within a certain time limit. Tell yourself that you will complete a task within a certain (reasonable) time. You will be surprised at how much more you can accomplish. They have tested for this under laboratory conditions and it is a fact that if you give yourself a goal and a time limit the brain tends to work faster and more successfully.

            Acknowledge your limitations and devise techniques for working around them. Instead of saying “I can’t remember” try saying “I will remember when X happens.” Give yourself a command such as “When I park my car I will shut my lights off.” Visualize doing this. When my wife asks me to pick up certain items for her when I go shopping I visualize selecting the item when I get to that part of the store. This works for me provided she doesn’t ask for too many things and that I know where the item is so I can visualize it. With practice you can actually get quite proficient at this sort of thing. As always, start with baby steps. Success builds success.

                Visualization is a key that you can use to improve your brainpower. It is a tool that you can use to fight the failure mechanism that we all struggle with. When we tell ourselves “I must remember” it is usually with this nagging feeling that we will forget. When you visualize actually remembering to do something you over ride that failure impulse.

            So, you start by taking control of your brain’s functions. Your brain is very obedient and will respond to commands. This does take practice. Practice being successful at something. Acknowledge your limitations. Visualize yourself being successful.

            I am not talking about saving a drowning child, landing a crippled airplane, or curing a wasting disease. I’m talking about wearing matching socks, turning off the stove, and calling your mother on her birthday. We can be successful people.

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