A couple of my friends decided to take up tennis recently. They’re both in their mid-60s, neither of them particularly athletic, both in decent health.
Tennis seemed like a fun activity that would get them out in the fresh air and doing something together that would be good for their bodies. They joined a tennis class to get started.
One of the gals, let’s call her Amy, didn’t stop complaining from Day 1. “It’s hard,” she said, of virtually everything she had to learn. It didn’t matter if it was picking up the ball or learning the correct stance for a serve, “It’s hard” was her constant refrain.
The other woman, “Jane,” had a different approach. She just went about trying to learn the game. Both women did their best to follow the instructor and both stuck with the class, but which one do you think actually learned how to play? Jane.
Jane didn’t have any more natural ability, talent, or special tennis-ready muscles. She simply didn’t get in the way of her brain learning a new skill.
Our brains are what it’s all about. As Donald Hebb, PhD, one of the foremost scientists who pioneered research into neuroplasticity and neuropsychology, said, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
How we think on a regular basis is what determines how our brain wires itself, which in turn, determines how we perceive our world and shapes our experiences.
Amy telling herself “It’s hard” at every tennis move, pretty much guaranteed that her brain would wire itself accordingly. She would continue to see everything in tennis as “hard,” making it even more challenging for her to accomplish her tennis goals.
Jane, on the other hand, didn’t shape her brain one way or the other. She let the tennis experience be whatever her body and mind made of each new step as it came along. This resulted in a fairly easy learning curve and achievement of her goals.
We can take this understanding one step farther by saying, “I like this!” or “Yes!” or “Wow, I can actually do this!” which would wire our brains to see the activity or behavior as pleasant, doable, something we could master.
This is precisely what Kris Machnick does. At 80, Kris’ passion is ice climbing. She climbs ice mountains for the joy of it and to raise funds for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Kris didn’t start as a mountain climber until she was 62, and then only went for indoor gym climbing. It took her a couple of years to go for outdoor climbing. From there, her passion for ice climbing evolved.
Had Kris taken one look at a mountain and thought, “It’s too hard,” her brain would have dutifully absorbed that information and literally made it too hard for Kris to climb.
Fortunately, Kris not only had the thoughts that allowed her brain to approach the experience in a positive manner, she continued thinking that way after she suffered a severe knee injury. Kris did what she had to do to recover and climbed right back up her beloved mountains.
No matter what activity you would like to pursue, be it learning a new language, growing tomatoes, or hiking the high hills, help yourself succeed by wiring your brain for success.
Tell yourself, “I can do this,” or “Others have learned this, so can I,” or “It’ll be fun!” Any thought with a positive spin will help your brain help you.
Just remember, the little train’s “I think I can, I think I can” got it up the hill. We’re all like that little train. “I think I can” takes you a long way towards the joy of “I can” and the fun and sense of achievement that goes with it.
When was the last time you consciously changed your focus from “I can’t” to “I can” and saw a different outcome? What obstacle did you overcome by having a positive mindset despite the odds? What situation are your facing today that could use more of an “I can” outlook? Please share with our community in the comments below.