Rewiring your brain by paying attention

Facing a six hour adventure to get home from New York yesterday, I stopped in an airport bookstore to see if something caught my fancy that would be an immersive read. In the days when I traveled over 80% of the time, I remember buying magazines (then much less than the $5-$10 they are now) but even then most were like needing a good meal and instead sitting down to a plate of cotton candy. Not very satisfying and pretty ephemeral.

The book I chose was Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself. Doidge takes us on a journey into the developments of brain science which has led to the current state of brain scientists understanding that the brain is “plastic” which can be molded, shaped, and rewired, “For years the doctrine of neuroscientists has been that the brain is a machine: break a part and you lose that function permanently. But more and more evidence is turning up to show that the brain can rewire itself, even in the face of catastrophic trauma: essentially, the functions of the brain can be strengthened just like a weak muscle.

There were many aspects of this book that leapt out at me but one key point I’ll bring up as I recommend this book: permanently imprinting and creating brain maps (i.e., permanent behavior changes, knowledge permanence, automatic responses and deep, intuitive understandings) only happens when a human or animal is focused and paying close attention.

That’s right. Multitasking (Linda Stone positions it as, continuous partial attention) WILL NOT hardwire our brains and anything we’re learning, hoping to absorb permanently or habits we’re intending to change….won’t.

Doidge brings up numerous examples of brain rewiring and plasticity which I’m thinking about now and have lots of questions swirling about: What happens to our brain maps and wiring when our conceptual and spatial awareness extends in to the virtual? (I’ll bet you can visualize in what folder on your computer sits that important document or photo…or what’s on your friends wall in Facebook from last night). Will automating processes begin to replace the need to hardwire them into our brains? When we all have mobile computers in our pockets and can instantly look up anything, will we need to permanently imprint knowledge?


  1. Dave Ferguson on April 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Another item added to my list. Have you seen the similar Train Your Brain, Change Your Mind by Sharon Begley? Although the title sounds like a self-help book, it’s actually a detailed discussion of the history and current state of brain research, including seminars conducted for the Dalai Lama over several years.

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About Steve Borsch

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.