Neuroplasticity

So you want to launch an app but you have your doubts and fears?  You're not alone, many of us when we started our businesses, felt that we were too young, or too old or not smart enough to turn a new page in our lives.  Perhaps you feel the same way?  Well if you do, you shouldn't, read on and we'll tell you why—with science!

 

Several people that have always wanted to start a business, or who have a great idea for a business, never develop a business because they believe they do not have what it takes. Some do not think they are smart enough, while others think they are too old to initiate a successful business. However, research in neuroscience helps explain why these notions of inadequacy are false and provides some insight into how we can focus our efforts to increase the likelihood that we are successful in business endeavors.

 

One aspect of our brains that enables us to learn new things and be successful in new types of ventures is that the connections between cells in our brain are plastic. This phenomenon is often referred to as neuroplasticity and is the foundation upon which our experiences lead to memories and new behaviors. It is often incorrectly assumed that the reduction in plasticity that occurs as we age makes it harder to learn new things. While this may be true in certain instances, the strong neural connections we build during our lifetime can also act as a scaffold upon which new things can be more easily learned.

 

Take the simple example of learning what animals are and what constitutes an animal. When we are very young, we learn that a dog is a type of animal, but it is likely not until later that we learn all the different breeds of dog. If we learn later in life that a golden retriever is a type of dog, then we also make the connection between golden retrievers and animals and understand that golden retrievers are animals because we know that dogs are animals. This logical connection could not be made without the initial connection of dog and animal..

 

What does neuroplasticity have to do with business? When we start a new business, there is a lot of information we have to navigate, and if we have not before started a business, we have to learn new habits and engage in new patterns of behavior. Doing these things requires that new connections are forged between cells of the brain, which is facilitated by the plastic nature of the brain.

 

A famous neuroscience study was conducted almost a decade ago that nicely demonstrated the involvement of neuroplasticity in the workforce. The study examined the brains of cab drivers in London, a city known for its complex geography. Researchers looked at the brains of cab drivers and compared them to the brains of other people who did not drive around London as much as cab drivers. They found that the hippocampi, which are parts of the brain involved in navigation and memory, were larger in cab drivers than in non-cab drivers. Presumably, then, the experience of navigating the streets of London re-wired cab drivers’ brains so that there were more connections, and thus a higher density, in parts of the brain required for successful navigation of the city.

 

Just as the plasticity of cab drivers’ brains allowed their brains to re-structure themselves so that neural energy was concentrated in areas important for their job, the plasticity of your brain allows you to choose the types of connections you would like your brain to have. In exposing yourself to the right experiences and in the right amounts, you can become successful in the entrepreneurial endeavor you choose.

 

The key, however, to harnessing the power of neuroplasticity to become successful in your business venture is to help your brain switch from understanding what it needs to do to actually doing those things. In other words, we must convert our knowledge about how to start a business into new behaviors and habits that enable that knowledge to get put to action.

 

Why does knowing how to run a business not automatically translate to new, productive behaviors? We are creatures of habit, and we tend to continue the same behaviors that we have performed in the past. The advantage of relying on habits is that they do not require a lot of thinking and therefore reserve mental energy. The downside of habits is of course that they are hard to change. What this means is that having good habits puts us at a huge advantage; with good habits, we save energy and perform behaviors that help, rather than hurt us.

 

To be successful in business, it is important to first have a checklist of the things that need to be done regularly. The next critical step then is programming these behaviors to become instinctual and automatic. We have the power to create new instincts by forcing ourselves to be disciplined in the short-term. If we deliberately do the things that are necessary for a successful business, these activities will become programmed, automatic parts of our behavior. With this technique, over time, we will find ourselves choosing the best actions without putting much thought into which actions we should take.

 

Below are a few tips for converting your knowledge about business into effective habits that ensure that you translate that information into behaviors that will make you successful:

 

  1. Use time as a cue for productive behaviors: Choose a time of day when you will perform the activities that need to be performed daily for your business to be successful. Engaging in these activities purposefully at the same time each day will eventually make these activities habitual. You will learn to instinctively engage in these behaviors at the same time each day.
  2. Have a plan: Know ahead of time what you need to get done each day and have an idea of the order in which you will complete tasks. If you do not have a plan, it will be easier to make bad decisions, choosing activities that are less productive or that are more consistent with your old habits.
  3. Observe your behavior and avoid temptation: If you find that you are not getting what you want out of your business, pay attention to how your spend your days and try to identify where the problems are. Perhaps you spend too much time on the phone or take excessively long lunch breaks. Once you identify your weaknesses, develop strategies for avoiding those things, and your productivity will increase over time.

 

Now that you’ve learned a little bit about neuroplasticity and how connections are made within the brain, you should feel confident in your ability to start the business you’ve always wanted to start. Put together a plan for what needs to get done, and then start deliberately creating the habits that will enable your success.