Recently, I have been struck by how often I hear people saying
I can’t or I don’t or I won’t
I am not talking about legitimate use of those words like “I can’t meet you for lunch.” or “I don’t smoke.” or “I won’t leap off that cliff.”
I am talking about those words when they are used as a limiting factor.
This jumped out at me the other day when my sister told me that my 21 year old niece had read this blog, loved it, and then she had added that she “can’t do blog writing”.
It struck me as odd, sad, and limiting; deciding that you “can’t” do something without ever making the effort to learn the skill.
My niece is a good writer. Learning to blog is simply learning a certain style of writing. It is experimenting to find what works well and what doesn’t. It is researching how to do it well. There are plenty of articles, videos, books, and forums on how to blog well. It is finding your voice as a writer. It is doing the work instead of expecting a magic wand to whack you upside the head to implant a skill in you.
Known limitations are often less scary than working to change.
Blessings of a Brain Injury
A big blessing of a brain injury is that you have to relearn so much that you learn how to learn again.
Can you imagine a baby giving up the first time she falls down on bottom and saying “I can’t walk!”?
I think most adults are afraid to learn or to change due to fear of failure. You can’t fail if you never start or try. “I can’t”, “I won’t”, “I don’t” are convenient walls of protection.
Adults also get out of the habit of learning and forget how to do it. I know that sounds funny but it is true.
Having to relearn old skills, rewire/remap my brain, and having to develop compensatory strategies to work around the brain holes has changed my whole outlook on learning new things.
I know how to learn now. It makes me feel that I can undertake new challenges. It makes me feel that I can learn things now that have been difficult for me in the past because I have learned how to learn.
Effects on the Aging Brain
“I can’t”, “I won’t”, “I don’t” have a high price tag attached. Besides losing out on new experiences and the chance to learn new skills, people are avoiding the very things that can help protect the brain from aging.
Research has repeatedly shown that learning new things such as a skill, a musical instrument, a new language is good for the brain. In the Dana Foundation’s booklet on current advances in brain research, Staying Sharp: Successful Aging and Your Brain they explain that
“Successful aging” studies consistently point to a few fundamental qualities of a brain-healthy lifestyle. The overall message is to stay active, mentally, physically and socially. …
The key is to actively engage the brain in novel ways. This could mean breaking out of old routines and learning something new, or simply doing something old in a new way. Activities that stimulate and challenge us intellectually seem to be best.
“Chunk out” Learning
I have learned that I need to “chunk out” my learning; park some learning goals on a side track while I attend to a specific few.
Down the road I want to learn to play an instrument and learn a new language. Neither learning an instrument nor learning a language have been easy for me in the past. But I think this time around I can apply the skills I have obtained in learning to learn. It will be interesting to see how it goes this time around. I think having learned how to learn, and the wisdom that comes with maturity create a nice mix that along with hard work may create success in these endeavors.
Lastly, I want to mention that the subtitle of this post “Say Can’t Quickly“ is a play on “Say Yes Quickly“, a poem by Jelaluddin Rumi, the great Sufi mystic who lived in the thirteenth century. The poem, in its entirety is below.
Say Yes Quickly
Forget your life. Say God is Great. Get up.
You think you know what time it is. It’s time to pray.
You’ve carved so many little figurines, too many.
Don’t knock on any random door like a beggar.
Reach your long hands out to another door, beyond where
you go on the street, the street
where everyone says, “How are you?”
and no one says How aren’t you?
Tomorrow you’ll see what you’ve broken and torn tonight,
thrashing in the dark. Inside you
there’s an artist you don’t know about.
He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.
If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you’re causing terrible damage.
If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know
and have never seen.
Is what I say true? Say yes quickly,
if you know, if you’ve known it
from before the beginning of the universe.