I have been reading with a lot of excitement a number of research studies on brain mapping. Now before your eyes glaze over, just follow me for a moment. In the past the accepted thinking has been that we develop all the brain cells we will have throughout our lives at an early age. And, as we age those brain cells begin to gradually die which accounts for our gradual loss of ability.

Current research now indicates that is not exactly the case. If we attempt things that mentally challenge us (and cross word puzzles don’t count) then the brain has the ability to grow new brain cells which allow us to remain mentally active and alive.

This is exciting news in that it lets us know that we can be involved and alert for years to come. But, it also means we have to attempt things that challenge us. Meaning, we have to get beyond the fear of failure and the natural tendency to keep doing things in the usual way. Put another way, even failed attempts are victories because you learn something along the way even if the original goal was not fulfilled.

What also encourages me about these reports is that they support Carol Dweck and her book “Mindset”. Her research over thirty years reveals that there are two types of people: A Fixed group who believe they are talented but that there is a limit to their ability to learn beyond their perceived abilities; and a Growth group who believe they have talent but constantly look for challenges to grow and expand their talent base by either looking for new challenges or responding in a proactive way to new challenges. People who are afraid to make a mistake have the impression that every failed attempt jeopardizes their inner image of competence and therefore don’t tackle things they find difficult and tend to operate just below their abilities.

Years ago I got into the habit of every now and then taking a different road on my way to a familiar place, just to see where the road would go. Sometimes I got lost but discovered something I did not know existed. Other times I found a different route I was not aware of (Alex always teases me that I am a secret taxi driver). But, on a number of occasions it has served me well. I remember being stuck in a traffic jam on I-25 in Denver. One of those “move a few inches every ten minutes” situations and it came to me that there was a service road at the next off ramp. I got off and watched those hundreds of people just sitting there, sticking to the only route they knew, fade into the distance. It saved so much time I was able to arrive home and watch the traffic jam on the news.

So ask yourself… when was the last time you tried something you thought was really challenging? For some of you who found this blog based on one particular post and now wait patiently for the latest update, when was the last time you went back and read some of the older posts just to see how this whole thing got started? When was the last time you decided to go in a different direction just to see how it would turn out?

Give it a try… you might gain some new brain cells!