A young bride was eagerly preparing on the morning of her wedding. She turned to her mother and said, “Oh mother, I am at the end of all my troubles.” Her wise and experienced Mum smiled and replied, “Yes my dear, but which end?”
As we look at our lives, many of us predict our future based upon our past. We believe one end determines another. Is this true? Let me share two thoughts on this.
Neurologically speaking, it is true that the first three years particularly, have a great impact on our future development. Our brains develop more during this time than any other stage of life. Research tells us that a positive emotional bond with at least one caregiver paves the way for how we feel about ourselves, how we get along with others, how we communicate and even how we learn. (Jack P. Shonkoff, 2013) Yes, our start in life plays a critical role in our development.
But what if you feel let down by genetics or shortchanged by your early environment? Does this leave you as an ‘achievement outcast’? Are you destined to remain the runt of the social litter because you were emotionally malnourished as a child? Not at all! The great news is, regardless of what is hardwired into your brain – you can do some rewiring.
Our brain continually adapts and develops new cells and new pathways based upon what we do, learn and think. It is called neuroplasticity. Evidence abounds in stroke patients whose brains reallocate certain cognitive functions to non-damaged areas in rehabilitation. London black cab drivers have a measurably larger hippocampus (the part of the brain dedicated to spatial awareness) compared to bus drivers. This is because the continually rely on it for navigating new routes every day versus the bus driver who takes the same route day in, day out. Dr Dennis Charney from Mt Sinai School of Medicine confirmed that prisoners of war placed in solitary confinement developed unusual cognitive ability because the only activity available to them was to think.
Why is this relevant to us? I have seen many people feel hard done by because of their start in life, by their upbringing or even because of their own poor choices. Consequently, their future gets shackled by the past and they live in a state of dissatisfied mediocrity.
During the 1940s and 1950s, an American prison warden, Clinton Duffy, was well known for his efforts to rehabilitate the men in his prison. Said one critic, “You should know that leopards don’t change their spots!”
Replied Warden Duffy, “You should know I don’t work with leopards. I work with men, and men change every day.”
We all have the power to change and to become. The question we all should be asking is not “can I change?” but “when will I start?”
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