Teaching an Old Leopard New Tricks

The older one gets, the harder it becomes to learn new skills, especially if you don’t already exercise the mind daily. That’s just a fact of life.

There are many ways to exercise the mind on a daily basis. For the word oriented, crossword puzzles can keep you sharp. For math geeks, sudoku works wonders. Bookstores and grocery stores have tons of magazine offerings that feature a plethora of brain puzzles and logic problems. There are even phone apps with daily brain training exercises. One of my personal faves is the Einstein Brain Trainer app.

Taking the time to learn a new skill, no matter your age, is another way to strengthen the mind. Creative skills are even better. Learn to paint or draw. Take up a martial art or dance. Explore yoga or tai chi. More musically inclined? Try singing or learn to play a musical instrument. Always wanted to act or debate? Never too late to start.

Learning new skills develops new neural pathways. It used to be thought that once you got older, you couldn’t really take on new skills. The brain was just too set in its ways; the networks too ingrained. Now we know that’s not the case. Learning new skills, no matter your age, will prompt the brain to form new neural connections.

I am approaching mid-life. Two years ago, I began learning to play the violin, then the cello, an instrument I have always wanted. It has been slow going, to be sure, but I am indeed learning. It didn’t help that I had random people nay-saying my potential, telling me that I had picked one of the hardest instruments to learn. Well, except it made me more determined. People telling me I can’t do something tends to piss me off. Thankfully, I have supportive family and friends who encourage me.

What happened? Well, I’m still learning, taking things in baby steps. Pain and lethargy from a medical issue impacts when and how long I may play. I work slow. And that’s okay. I intend to keep it up. It’s my enjoyment and benefits that count.

And you know what? I can already tell a change. The fingers of my left hand are learning, grumpily, to move independently of each other. Learning to use the bow has taught me to release the tension in my hand (a lifelong issue), when nothing else ever had. From that, I’ve learned to do the same thing with the left hand. Those things alone have made learning the violin and cello worthwhile.

That’s not all though. It’s improved my already abundant creativity, and it is slowly dragging me out of my social shell. Playing where people, the instructor included, could see and hear me was terrifying at first. I can now practise in hearing of other people, and in sight of some people. For me, that is a huge change in behaviour. This willingness has made it easier for me to put myself out there as an author. Being out there means being exposed to reviews, some of which will inevitably be nasty. I wasn’t really ready to do that before, and I don’t think it mere coincidence that it coincides with beginning to become comfortable playing where others can hear.

What about you? Do you have any new skills you want to learn? What’s holding you back?

For those with a more scholarly interest, go here.

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