Get out of the box

The Washington Times Weekly - - Off The Tracks -

Speak­ing of health haz­ards, new re­search sug­gests think­ing for your­self is good for your body:

Habits are a funny thing. We reach for them mind­lessly, set­ting our brains on auto-pilot and re­lax­ing into the un­con­scious com­fort of familiar rou­tine. “Not choice, but habit rules the un­re­flect­ing herd,” William Wordsworth said in the 19th cen­tury. In the ever-chang­ing 21st cen­tury, even the word “habit” car­ries a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion.

So it seems an­ti­thet­i­cal to talk about habits in the same con­text as cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion. But brain re­searchers have dis­cov­ered that when we con­sciously de­velop new habits, we cre­ate par­al­lel synap­tic paths, and even en­tirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, in­no­va­tive tracks. [. . . ]

All of us work through prob­lems in ways of which we’re un­aware, she says. Re­searchers in the late 1960s dis­cov­ered that hu­mans are born with the ca­pac­ity to approach chal­lenges in four pri­mary ways: an­a­lyt­i­cally, pro­ce­du­rally, re­la­tion­ally (or col­lab­o­ra­tively) and in­no­va­tively. At pu­berty, how­ever, the brain shuts down half of that ca­pac­ity, pre­serv­ing only those modes of thought that have seemed most valu­able dur­ing the first decade or so of life.

[Too bad we don’t use our most valu­able though pro­cesses to­day]:

The cur­rent em­pha­sis on stan­dard­ized test­ing high­lights anal­y­sis and pro­ce­dure, mean­ing that few of us in­her­ently use our in­no­va­tive and col­lab­o­ra­tive modes of thought. “This breaks the ma­jor rule in the Amer­i­can be­lief sys­tem — that any­one can do any­thing,” ex­plains M. J. Ryan, au­thor of the 2006 book “This Year I Will. . .” and Ms. Markova’s busi­ness part­ner. “That’s a lie that we have per­pet­u­ated, and it fos­ters medi­ocrity. Know­ing what you’re good at and do­ing even more of it cre­ates ex­cel­lence.”

— “Can You Be­come a Crea­ture of New Habits?” posted May 4 at ny­times.com

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