Activate the artist within and upgrade your brain

Visual art and creative expression have a significant impact on cognitive performance and learning. Here's how.

Throughout history, humans have created and invented new things in order to survive, adapt, and thrive. Evidence suggests that the first microscopic trace of wood ash was created in a controlled fire about 1,000,000 million years ago - a seminal event for Homo Erectus and the human species, and a monumental breakthrough in history.

Like humans, animals are capable of using innovation to solvee a problem. Primatologist Lydia Hopper explains, "Non-human animals innovate all the time, whether it's chimpanzees learning how to lure termites out of their burrow, Caledonian crows solving complicated puzzles, or the family dog figuring out how to open the trash can in the kitchen to get to the treats inside."

Two different learning mindsets

Art is a central feature of flourishing cultures (visual arts, music, literature, dance, theater) and is considered a defining characteristic of the human species because of its ability to convey ideas, concepts, and emotions through various means of visual representation. 

Most importantly, it has played an essential role in human history because of its role in the development of language and communication. Like language, art is a symbolic and referential system that strongly influences the values and belief systems of an evolving society through images, sounds, and stories.

The expression of art is also an extremely healthy behavior. Studies show that it reduces stress, increases self-reflection and self-awareness, changes patterns of behavior and thinking, and even normalizes heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.

Now, to begin to realize the inner artist within you, it is important to briefly address two primary intelligence views: the incremental (growth) and the holistic (fixed) mindset.

Entity theorists believe that heredity determines intelligence and is thus fixed and immutable. In contrast, incremental theorists believe that intelligence is malleable and is shaped by experience and the environment.

Applying these views to learning, people with a fixed mindset believe that they are incapable of mastering a skill unless they understand it immediately and effortlessly. In contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that anything is possible if they put in the effort and take personal responsibility.

Several studies have shown that entity theorists tend to react helplessly in the face of failure and make negative judgments about their intelligence based on those failures. A lack of persistence characterizes this helplessness response pattern. In contrast, incremental theorists try harder, develop better strategies, and persevere.

Can you tell the difference between the beliefs "I am a terrible artist" and "I can become a great artist"? The fixed view becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - a limiting belief that leads to an endless loop of hopelessness and despair.

On the contrary, there is still debate about how malleable our intelligence is. However, breakthroughs in the science of neuroplasticity confirm beyond doubt that the possibility of forming new neural pathways always exists. It just takes time and effort.

Progress is not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be

Khalil Gibran

The Origins of a Fixed Mindset

While it is easy to assume that an Entity Mindset is related to criticism and negative feedback, studies show that even childhood achievers can develop an Entity Mindset.

Research shows that even gifted students experience events that change their attitudes about achievement and their beliefs about intelligence as they get older. Encountering a new environment that does not reward achievement can foster a state of underachievement.

For example, honors students in elementary and high school often feel unprepared and unmotivated for college. They believe that their "mediocre" grades are because they maxed out in earlier years. In this scenario, the mind associates unsatisfactory grades with not being good enough.

When people underachieve, it triggers negative beliefs that cause them to avoid opportunities for new learning and challenges that could catapult them to a new level of understanding and mastery.

Fueling the growth

A growth-oriented mindset focuses on developing intelligence through continuous learning and effort, fostering motivation, and internalizing extrinsic motivation. Although failures and setbacks are a necessary part of the learning process, parents and teachers must understand that beliefs are malleable. 

Studies show that children who believe that intelligence develops through challenging tasks and hard work are often more successful in academic and social settings. This is consistent with the plasticity of the brain, which is constantly reorganizing and adapting due to environmental or structural factors. 

With over 86 billion neurons, the brain can adapt, rearrange and rewire itself as it takes in new information over time. Learning a new skill or gaining new experiences stimulates the brain to rewire itself or store more memories to adapt to such internal and environmental changes. 

While early research assumed that neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons, stops shortly after birth, numerous studies have shown that the brain has a remarkable ability to reorganize pathways, make new connections, and initiate new neurons. These neurons connect via dendrites, which help transmit information from one neuron to the next.

brain plasticity infographic

The first years of childhood are a time of rapid brain growth. One neuron acquires about 2,500 synapses, and by the age of three, this number grows to about 15,000 synapses per neuron. However, by adulthood, this number drops to an average of 1,000 synapses per neuron. An average toddler has significantly more synapses compared to adults.

Psychological studies have proven that children who grow up in safe households - where there is constant communication, attention, vulnerability, and stability - and who have an equally nurturing environment are more likely to have a growth mindset. 

While it's easier for secure people to deal with failures and setbacks, there is a way for people who grow up in an insecure environment to shift to a growth mindset. You have to start with their stories about themselves, their mistakes, and new challenges, and tackle the limiting and fixed beliefs.

Although it is possible for people to change their mindset and rewire their brain, it takes conscious effort and repetition over time. Nonetheless, it is important to keep learning and doing new things to keep the brain fit and adaptable. 

Learning environments that offer new incentives and provide positive feedback are more likely to encourage a growth mindset. Parents and teachers need to understand that beliefs are malleable because children who believe that intelligence develops through challenging tasks and hard work are often more successful in academic and social settings.

๐Ÿš€ Shifting to a Growth Mindset ๐Ÿš€

Neuroplasticity is a key concept behind the growth mindset. The brain can shift functions from impaired brain areas to unimpaired brain areas (functional plasticity), and it can also change its physical structure through learning (structural plasticity). 

These are the steps required to train the brain and promote innovation and general mental well-being.

 1. Identify limiting beliefs

To grow, you have to be able to step outside your comfort zone. However, limiting beliefs keep people from pursuing goals, creating new things, and solving problems. Once you recognize these, you can begin to reprogram negative beliefs about achievement, failure, and perfectionism.

 2. Set goals

Limiting beliefs do not simply disappear after being recognized. To change negative associations related to growth, one must continually set goals to encourage a growth mindset.

3. Recognize triggers

It's normal to feel triggered by things that are supposedly uncertain or uncertain. Recognizing these triggers is a sign of progress because action begins with awareness.

4. Make conscious decisions

Other people's perceptions are an important factor in an entity's mindset. To get away from this, you must learn to set and enforce boundaries by making conscious decisions on your own.

5. Seek pleasure and reward from healthy pursuits

To make the consistent pursuit of growth the new normal, create positive associations between achieving goals and stepping out of your comfort zone.

A study of college students concluded that a growth-oriented mindset is directly related to high social support and life satisfaction. A growth-oriented mindset begins with regulating limiting beliefs, setting goals, consciously identifying thoughts and feelings, and finally, practically meeting your needs.

    โœ๏ธ Start Drawing โœ๏ธ

    There are many ways to build and strengthen new synaptic connections in the brain and awaken the inner artist, and drawing is a good place to start. 

    Even if it starts with doodles in your journal, studies that have observed the brain while drawing have shown that gray matter increases significantly, leading to improved fine motor skills and procedural memory.

    Getting started is easy. Take 20 minutes a day and draw a series of circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles of equal width and fixed spacing. Try to make the lines as uniform as possible - straight, with equal thickness and equal spacing between lines.

    Try this for at least five days and then think about the changes after you have consistently put pen to paper. As with anything else, this exercise develops new motor skills. It's a great way to challenge yourself, and sooner than you think, you'll be sketching the world around you.

    ๐Ÿ Takeaways ๐Ÿ

    1. Everyone is capable of learning, growing, and innovating.

    2. Keep the brain plastic and malleable by constantly challenging it. It's never too late to adopt a growth mindset.

    3. If you want to be the best version of yourself, change your perspective and know that you always have the power to control your growth, achieve excellence, and reach your fullest and highest potential.


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