Ever since quarter one of chiropractic school, I received the same message from almost everyone who saw me. The conversations around adjusting almost always entailed these types of comments:
- “You’re going to have a hard time adjusting,”
- “You’re going to have to work harder than anyone else”
- “Adjusting won’t be easy for you”
- “You’re too small to be able to adjust like them”
And while I appreciated the individualized focus of how I would need to alter my adjustments to fit my body type, five foot three and 110 pounds, it was not the most encouraging way to view my abilities. Until one person told me something no one else had. “You’re going to turn doubters into believers.”
It seems paradoxical that neuroplasticity is only a newly accepted concept in the scientific world when people have been adapting and learning new skills since the dawn of time. Michael Merzenich, one of the worlds’ leading experts and researchers on neuroplasticity sought to know more about what changes occur in the brain when we learn. Though everyone knows that there are limitations to matter with learning something new, if it were easy everyone would be champions, experts, and masters of whatever they wanted to know. In order for our brain to adapt to change and increase our skill set, learning has to happen in a way consistent with the laws that govern brain plasticity. When this occurs, we can learn and perceive with greater precision, speed, and retention. The structure of the brain itself will change and increase its capacity to learn. Before Merzenich’s work, the brain was thought to have unalterable limits on memory, processing speed, and intelligence.1 This view shows a very bleak outlook on human potential and sets every amount of intelligence and talent with restrictions. Carol Dweck terms this view as the “fixed mindset” in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
The biggest problem with this view and especially in the success-driven world we live in, is that it creates an urgency to prove ourselves over and over again. If we only have a certain amount of intelligence, or the ability to proficiently perform a skill such as adjusting, then we had better prove we have that talent ingrained already.2
As the brain develops and a child is exposed to sensory and motor processing, the brain constantly adapts and forms differentiated areas termed brain maps to master repetitive movements such as walking and eating.1 These brain maps develop each time we integrate a new skill. Each time the skill is repeated, new neuronal connections are made. When two or more neurons fire at the same time repeatedly, chemical changes occur in both, so that the two tend to connect more strongly.1 Though seemingly mundane, repetition can create lasting changes in the brain’s physiology. However, this only happens when paying close attention. Going through the motions does not create masters, it only delays the permanent changes required to enhance processing speed and specificity.1
In addition to focus repetition, belief also plays a huge role in furthering a skill. The growth mindset is based on the belief that our basic qualities, skills, and intelligence can be cultivated and grown through our efforts and help from others.2
The major dilemma that I faced when it came to adjusting, is that no one really knew how to teach me to adjust with my body type. I may have had to work harder, but the required focus on speed and precision in time will not hinder me to becoming a skillful adjuster. Adjusting has no doubt been a challenge, but I look forward to seeing progress with experience. Learning is ingrained in our body’s physiology, and though individuals may start out with different natural levels of skill, it is not always the “talented” who master their skill.
- Doidge, N. (2007) The Brain that Changes itself: Stories of personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. Viking Publisher pp 47-68.
- Dweck, C. (2016) Mindset: The New Psychology of success. Ballantine Books Publisher pp 6-7.
This article first appeared in the April 2020 issue of Lifelines, the Life West student magazine.