A Brain on Persistence

All good intentions aside – projects often fall off the tracks before completion. Has it happened to you?

Why do so many power-packed-possibilities flicker, fizzle and die before they reach their potential? Some blame it on disorganization. Others attribute derailed efforts to laziness.

Why do Some Ideas Hang in and Others Let Go?

Neither laziness nor disorganizations’ the culprit – if you consider how a brain hangs onto one idea and lets go of another.

Research now shows scientific support for persistence as it links to working memory and basal ganglia, as illustrated in the video here. 

Think of new ideas as sketched onto your brain’s scratch pad – or your working memory. Then imagine a new and different idea that erases your original sketches to make room for its details. Make sense?

Working Memory’s the Brain’s Sketch Pad

Working memory – that place where you configure and apply novel ideas – comes equipped to lose that data when you focus on other issues. So what would bridge the gap between research or concept idea and successful implementation into renewed practices?

Persistence comes from five principles that factor in the brain’s staying power. These include:  targeting expected outcomes; critical first days; outsourcing detailed steps; tackling barriers; encouraging yourself and others.

First, Sketch specifically what you have in mind for outcomes. Then tweak and clarify this expected outcome at regular intervals, as the project moves forward. When you focus on a specific outcome, the brain’s working memory stretches to step that focused plan into reality.

Second, Before the working memory erases your ideas to make room for the next facts or details – capture critical details on a white board, email them to a friend, or apply key parts so that you move the initiative closer to your brain’s basal ganglia where it sticks and stays.

Third, Secure your ideas in more permanent storage spaces than the working memory’s non-reliable sketch pad. You might create a computer file with the ideas, map out an action plan with dates for each next step or hang an outline of your plan beside your computer, and include daily steps into your to-do-lists for the week. Keep your steps front and central, so that persistence stands a chance.

Fourth, Articulate, and then tackle barriers that limit your ideas. Check the research findings, or ask  support from progressive peers but avoid cynical toxins in these early stages.  Stress from  a cynic’s scorn literally defaults your progress back to comfortable habits.  Keep alive working memory possibilities, by tossing in solutions, and your brain stays alert until the project is finalized.

Finally, encourage yourself and others to zip along with a bit of attitude – so that novelty and play open serotonin’s gateways into genius.

What do you do to keep the magic alive in promising new projects?

See related posts:

Expect More Memory by Outsourcing Key Facts

Basal Ganglia – Working Memory and Change

8 Comments

  1. I use exercise as a way to keep the fire alive and the magic in new projects.

    I guess I respond well to endorphins, and since serotonin is a gateway to genius, I wonder is there a correlation between serotonin and exercise?

  2. eweber says:

    Interesting John, and you connected it precisely to the serotonin gateways that many miss – in ways that close doors to adventurous projects.

    Thanks for the great site to make daily adventures at http://johnfalchetto.com/about/ and interesting questions from Adventure Mindset.

    As to your question, and the correlation between serotonin and excercise, there is a link.

    To exercise is to add more oxygen to the brain — which demands 21% of the body’s supply. So you open up areas of the brain to raise serotonin ahas when you exercise.

    The persistence of these depends on your persistence with exercise though, and the completion of ideas into realities still depends of working more with working memory. New discoveries add more for us to go on, to get those novel ideals to market!

    What do you think?

  3. DorleeM says:

    Thanks, Ellen, for this very interesting post.

    I’ll have to make a point of keeping in mind all these ways of engaging my working memory so that I won’t have a problem keeping up with my goal of learning some Spanish :)

    I just finished lesson 14 out of the first 30 or so lessons of Spanish I (a home study version) and it is taking a lot of persistence on my part right now because for the last few lessons, I’ve found myself having to listen to each daily lesson two days in a row before being able to move on to the following lesson.

    In other words, as the lessons are increasing in difficulty, I’m needing more practice in order to keep up. So the way that I am currently managing to keep my eye on the goal is to stick with the idea of doing one lesson a day but repeating a lesson when needed (and that’s ok).

  4. eweber says:

    Wow – How impressive is that Dorlee – you are an inspiration to all of us.

    Learning increases dynamically whenever we apply what we learn as we go, and that makes me wonder if you could teach this to your children or to another and then apply all new words by using them with the other person.

    The key to staying in a race is also to outsource memory – and that may include: Making flash cards and having others ask you these, writing a letter to the editor to a Spanish paper, or making a YouTube to show a friend your brief points spoken or illustrated in Spanish. The brain’s working memory does well to apply and to link learning to real life solutions. Just a few thoughts because I so admire your efforts.

    I speak in so many different countries – with so many languages – that I got used to top-level translators for these (including Inuktitut) which I encountered in my work on Baffin Island. Far better for the brain to take your cool route.

    Buena Suerte!!

  5. DorleeM says:

    I’m not there yet…but thank you for your confidence and kind words :)

    This particular home study set is a great one in that you are learning very practical uses of the language…so that I could theoretically strike up a brief conversation with one of the doormen/porters and have a chance to practice.

    I’ll keep this in mind as an opportunity to solidify the knowledge gained! By the way, one thing I’m finding both helpful and distracting is that I had learned French in high school. Some words in Spanish are similar to words in French but just pronounced differently; other words are not even remotely similar.

    This means that I often find myself remembering and/or comparing the new Spanish I’m learning to the French I once knew. I’m not sure if this is good or not but it is what it is…

  6. Hi DorleeM,

    I have 10 years of experience of teaching foreign language, so I might give an answer to your question.

    It’s said that if you have basics in one language and want to learn another (let’s call them L1 and L2) they can get in each other’s way or help you. The thing is, if your knowledge of L1 is good, it will help you master L2. However, if it’s not very good, it will lead you to make similar mistakes in L2.

    Of course, understanding new words would be easy, but that’s only one feature of the word learning process and world learning is furthermore only one feature of the entire language acquisition process.

  7. […] reconfigures the brain to use more working memory for new possibility, and relies less on the brain’s basal ganglia – which stores old habits.  Unlike your brain’s basal ganglia that defaults into habits and […]

  8. […] relies less on the basal ganglia – or mental storehouse of […]

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