There are a number of ways to look at life lessons. On most occasions, you’ll see life lessons coming from someone’s experience or some book. This article will surprise you. Experience is not the only way to learn about life. Sometimes, you’ll see lessons in the oddest places. Such as the clockwork of your brain.
I am going to walk you through certain processes in the brain and then I’ll show you what we can learn from them – Not for the technical bit, but for living a good life. It’s remarkable that we can learn something from the brain.
So here are 5 life & motivational lessons everyone should take from the human brain! … And why you should know these features of the brain
Lesson 1: Astrocytes
Your brain is a dense network of about 80 billion neurons and another 80 billion non-neuronal cells (astrocytes, glial cells). The neurons are what most people refer to as brain cells. They largely accommodate learning, memory, emotion, etc. The glial cells & other astrocytes are the faithful repair artists that take care of the neurons. They function in concert as the human brain. The network of cells in the brain interact with each other. Why should you know this? Because the awesome glial cells need to be acknowledged. They are cool and they really matter. So now acknowledge the backend of society, the backend of home, the stuff that happens like clockwork behind all things nice.
Takeaway: Appreciate the silent helpers that do things that benefit you.
Lesson 2: Plasticity
Your brain changes and reflects what you learn. This happens right until late adulthood. So when you spend time learning an instrument or a language or perhaps spend time driving an uber for 30 years, your brain will show differences that are caused by your learning. This is called plasticity. Neurons can modify how the communicate in a network, strengthen or weaken certain cellular links, partake in larger networks of neurons across the brain, or resign from existing networks. Why should you know this? Because a plastic brain means a brain that can learn and change. So your excuse “I’m too old for this shit” is a little invalid. You can learn at any age. It is often easier to learn when you are young but you can, nonetheless, learn and get proficient at a skill even at 45 years of age.
Takeaway: Learn and adapt, it’s not too late.
Lesson 3: Only ‘On’
There really is no off switch in the brain. But, a couple of ‘on’ switches can work together to produce an ‘off’ switch effect. Here is what happens. Let us say that a set of neurons (A) send out a signal to another set (B). This is A turning B on. B, when turned on, will effectively produce the sound ‘Aaaa’. Let us introduce 2 new sets of neurons (X & Y). Now, a set of neurons (C) can send a signal to X and Y to communicate differently with B and thus affect the ultimate behavior of producing an ‘Aaaa’. X and Y now change the way they communicate and do not excite B; thus, an ‘Aaaa’ response is not produced. So using multiple ‘on’, that is, neural signals, a behavior exhibited an ‘on’ or an ‘off’. Nothing switched off a neuron. In more technical terms, neurons inhibit or excite other neurons via neurotransmitters to produce a neural signal.
Why should you know this? Because you can take a metaphorical hint from this. In life, you can build behaviors that prohibit an outcome instead of looking for an ‘off switch’. Build habits that deter destructive habits. For example, don’t look for how to kill your thirst for alcohol. Look for ways to spend time in ways that make you feel good, such as sports, or good conversations.
Is this confusing? I have an analogy for you: If you can’t take a left turn, take 3 right turns.
Takeaway: If you don’t find an ‘off switch’, find an ‘on’ switch that is useful.
Lesson 4: Synaptic pruning
When we are born, our brain produces a lot of neural connections. A LOT. As we get older and learn things, the brain goes on an optimization trip. It keeps what is wanted, needed, or useful, in some sense. It throws away what is useless and detrimental. The brain will form amazing networks that accommodate a crazy amount of learning. Think about it. A kid learns the overwhelming amount of sensory details, languages, social norms, knowledge-based content, skills, etc. The brain is prepped to account for such massive learning by initiating millions of neurons in a network which becomes pseudo-concrete (remember, plasticity) through adulthood. It also discards millions of neuron (and connections) through a process called ‘synaptic pruning’.
Synaptic pruning optimizes the neuronal connections (synapses) that are needed for a network to function. Synapses are largely accountable for learning. This effect is dominant in our childhood. However, for adults, the dominant process is small-scale axon terminal arbor pruning. The most useful & used connections are maintained, the rest are discarded. It optimizes by discarding. Imagine what would happen if these useless neurons kept consuming energy. We’d need more food, we’d generate more waste, more noise, we wouldn’t be sustainable.
Why should you know this? Because you can prune stuff from your life. Get rid of useless things and keep the useful things. Ready a lot of resources to do something and then optimize by minimizing the resources needed. It is ok to begin with huge amounts to achieve something desirable and it is ok to let go of things when they are no longer needed. Throw away dead weight. Now, whatever that remains with you should be used.
Takeaway: Get rid of dead weight and optimize the resources you have.
Lesson 5: Late onset of risk intuition
The prefrontal cortex, a specialized unit of the brain that handles a lot of high-level aspects such as risk taking, decision making, meta-thinking, etc. does not fully develop up until the 20s. The logical follow up to this is that the brain properly cannot handle assessing risks intuitively up until the 20s. So a 14-year-old kid doing drugs probably cannot comprehend the gravity of resultant consequences.
Why should you know this? Because this is where rules become effective. If the brain cannot comprehend the risks of doing something intuitively, the person having that brain cannot understand the real gravity of a risky situation. Probably doesn’t know what to do or what could happen. This is when having rules can guide behaviour better. Let the brain learn the rules, follow them, develop an intuition for risks and then let the intuition (and learned thinking) guide behaviour. Rules can be good.
Takeaway: Accept that some risks are beyond your comprehension and take preventive measures even if you don’t fully understand the risks.
Here is a short graphic for you to review
There you go. 5 aspects of the brain that offer us incredible lessons that would help us lead a good life!
- Neural plasticity
- Inhibition and excitation
- Synaptic pruning
- Risk intuition in the adolescent brain
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Hey! Thank you for reading; hope you enjoyed the article. I run Cognition Today to paint a holistic picture of psychology. My content here is referenced in Forbes, CNET, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, a few books, academic courses, and research papers.
I’m an applied psychologist from Bangalore, India. Love sci-fi, horror media; Love rock, metal, synthwave, and pop music; can’t whistle; can play the guitar.