Use It or Lose It

Most people are familiar with the phrase, “use it or lose it,” which is usually said about muscle power. But scientists who are studying how the brain works have made some discoveries indicating that this saying holds true for our mental capacities as well.

They have discovered something about mastering difficult tasks that is very interesting. They have found that the better you get at doing something difficult, the less brainpower it takes. The brain is creating new pathways, and the more often the new task is accomplished, the more substantial the neural pathway becomes. Once this pathway is established, the messages travel faster and less energy is needed to move them along.

Now, in some ways this seems to contradict common sense. For instance, if you asked a runner to leap over obstacles in addition to increasing speed, he or she would obviously have to expend more energy.

However, the brain apparently works in the opposite way, using less fuel as it becomes more accomplished and as challenges are increased. Now, the relationship between practice and performance has always been obvious to musicians who know that it gets easier and easier to do more complex things, as you become a better player. (“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice. Practice. Practice!”)

We know that the same principle holds true for all of us. That is why it is so important to hang in there in the early stages of learning a new skill, even if you feel awkward and frustrated. If you do, the payoff will be there for you down the road and it will get a whole lot easier.

So, what new skill have you been putting off? How about giving it another try? Remember, there can be great fun in learning if you believe there can be.