Increasing Abilities/ Memory Athletes/ Growth Mindsets…Chapter 7

Nothing like wind chills in the negative numbers to set the stage for hot tea, blankets and a good book (in this case Chapter 7 of Make It Stick will have to do!)

Be honest – did you know there were actually memory championships all over the world with the winners taking home cash prizes?  The authors talk about memory champions who have perfected the use of mnemonics to memorize incredible amounts of information (more here:  http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/19/remembering-as-an-extreme-sport/?_r=0).  The use of mnemonics has long been a strategy to trigger recall and/or retrieval of information.  Can you remember the colors of the spectrum, order of operations, mitosis phases, the order of planets etc.- most likely you conjured up ROYGBIV, please excuse my dear Aunt Sally, I propose men are toads,  and my very educated mother just served us noodles – all excellent examples of mnemonics.  These devices can and do play a role in the potential to increase learning at any age and while things like deliberate practice and repeated use are necessary for mastery, mnemonics can help to organize the learning along the way.

Let’s get back to increasing abilities at any age – exciting concept especially for those of us beyond what most think of as the learning years.  It seems the long-standing belief that your IQ is your IQ may not necessarily be true and that calling on your brain at any age can have positive results. Political scientist, James Flynn, reports on rising IQ numbers in developed nations and specifically in the United States with an increase of 18 points to the average IQ in the last 60 years.  The enhancements in schools, nutrition and technology (television) have all contributed positively to this increase.  Environmental factors can also influence the IQ.  Structured preschool interventions (whether in the home or in an outside location) in lower socio-economic environments had a positive impact on IQ whereas not so much in homes where children are exposed to things like being read to on a regular basis.

The authors talk about the work of Carol Dweck and her belief that intellectual ability is not fixed at birth but in fact is what you believe it can be (growth vs. fixed mindset).  The TED Talk below talks about the power of believing.

http://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en

The authors takeaway from Dweck’s work, “is that more than IQ, it’s discipline, grit and a growth mindset that imbue a person with the sense of possibility and the creativity and persistence needed for higher learning and success.”

So a simple answer to why bother is that research is showing us that calling on our brains to build new connections has more to do with the determination and grit with which we approach such events than it does with the genes we were born with.  I saw evidence of this personally when I watched my Dad suffer a series of strokes and 3 brain operations in a weekend.  He was sent to a rehabilitation center hunched over in a wheelchair needing to be fed and having to learn to walk and speak all over again.  While sitting in speech therapy and learning to walk again was not easy for a proud 80-year-old – his sheer determination and grit were the reasons why he is now back to riding a bike and shooting hoops at 87.  The fact that he was able to retrain his brain in his 80’s makes me a believer in this chapter of Make It Stick.

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