Habitual Learning

The human brain is an amazing thing. I learned a new word today. I think I may have heard it before, but I now know what it means. The word is neuroplasticity. Isn’t that a fantastic word? It just sort of rolls around in your mouth when you say it. New-Row-Plaa-Stis-City. That’s the closest I can come to phonetically spelling the word. Picture in your mind, a switchboard operator (from many decades ago) sitting in front of a massive switchboard with wires being endlessly pushed in and pulled out and you have a mental image of neuroplasticity. The word neuroplasticity is broken down into two parts, neuro referring to the neurons in the brain and plasticity which refers to the ability of the brain to reshape and categorize information. “Well”, you say, “isn’t that lovely, so happy you shared that; however, what does that mean and how does it apply to my life?”

So glad you asked. Neuroplasticity basically controls the learning process. It is the brain function that allows us to form and break habits. It describes how the brain takes new information and files it away in our brains. This function can also take old information and re-categorize it allowing us to look at the information from a different perspective.

Annnnnd…..this is important why?  Because this is how we learn new habits and unlearn (so to speak) less appealing habits.  For example, you may want to create a habit of reading your Bible first thing every morning.  Your habit now is to just get up and start getting ready for the day.   Every time you actually take time to read your Bible first thing, the stronger the signal becomes in your brain.  Repeat the process enough times and reading the Bible first becomes a habit.  Conversely, each time you don’t repeat a process, the signals in your brain for that process become weaker and weaker and soon the old habit gets replaced by the new habit. 

Obviously, this is a huge over-simplification of the process of neuroplasticity, but you get the idea.  Interestingly enough, there is one part of the habit-forming/unforming process that isn’t accounted for with neuroplasticity.  It’s the will or desire to change the habit.  Is it possible, some unpleasant habit you have feels almost impossible to change? This is where desire comes in. The brain is capable of doing it, but do we really want to change a particular habit?

Luckily for us, most habits are just that, habits.  We become used to way we do things and they become rote and nearly meaningless.  Even a good habit can become sterile if we don’t actively think about what we are doing.  Surprisingly, your quiet time with God can turn into just another checkmark on your to do list.  Imagine, here you are ready to spend some time in prayer and contemplation.  Within seconds, literally, your mind starts darting around thinking about everything else you have to do that day.  You realize you haven’t been actively praying at all. 

Developing the habit of focusing on just the current action, is difficult in our distracting

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world.  Your time with the Lord needs to be more important than anything else you have to do.  The Bible tells us in Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  This is not the only place in the Bible where we told to seek God first.  Look at 1 Chronicles 16:11 “Seek the Lord and His strength, seek his presence continually” (that means ALL the time). One verse that I particularly like is Psalm 14:2 “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.”  Do we actively seek after God? Top on my list is Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” That is a tall order. Let us use these marvelous brains that God gave us to seek him with all our hearts and minds. We are never too old to learn.   Continue to read uplifting books, including your Bible.  Don’t let the climate of our culture determine how you live.  Follow God’s word and do his will, seek his righteousness.  Open yourself to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and live like Christ is coming back tomorrow.  Make every minute count. 

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