I love this snow metaphor of how our ‘plastic’ brain works….(attributed to Pascual-Leone).
Neuroplasticity is like fresh pliable snow on a hill. When you go down the hill on a sled for the first time, you can be flexible in that you can choose whatever route to take. You can take different paths on your second and subsequent trips too if you like. However, if you choose to take the same path each time, a deeper and more permanent track will develop, and soon it will be difficult to sled down the hill without being ‘stuck in the rut’ you have created. Your route will now be quite rigid, and it will take some effort to break out of the rut and establish new pathways.
In a similar way, neural circuits, once established, tend to become self-sustaining. As Doidge puts it in his book “The Brain that Changes Itself”, neuroplasticity works both ways, it gives rise not only to mental flexibility and growth, but can also lead to mental rigidity and stagnation.
Doidge refers to this as the “Plastic Paradox”. All of us start out with plastic potential. Some go on to develop patterns of increasing mental flexibility into adulthood. Others lose the spontaneity, creativity and unpredictability of childhood and develop rigid mental patterns, following the same snow tracks of the brain over and over.
Seeking variety, learning new skills and following new paths are all ways to continue to increase the integration and neural connectedness in our brains, even into adulthood.
What’s your view on this? Do you have other metaphors that work for you? Your contributions are very welcome.