Brains Need SYSTEMS to Develop

Learning CHANGES the Structure of the Brain:

Impossible in the face of chaos

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC

“You don’t cure a different organization of the brain;
you find ways and strategies of helping that brain learn [. . .] in a different way.
It’s not about cure, it’s about teaching different ways.

~ Maryanne Wolf
reading expert & author of Proust and the Squid

Building a Brain

While it is true that no two brains develop in a manner that is exactly the same, babies come into this world with a brain specialized for learning – a pattern-recognition device designed to bootstrap learning into a structure of additional patterns.

The brain develops in a manner not dissimilar to the way in which a computer uses certain hardwired sub-routines to locate and activate still more code that allows for the loading and interpretation of additional programs — which facilitates their use for creating new ideas.

The human brain builds the new structures and networks it needs to allow it to continue to learn.  The process by which it does that work is known as neuroplasticity.

Not all that long ago, most of the science-crowd mistakenly believed that there was a relatively early window in which neuroplasticity operated. It was once thought that all of the neurons our brains were ever going to have developed within that window, and the systems the brain used to learn were set after a particular point in childhood.

Baby brains develop amazingly quickly

If you’ve ever spent any time at all around an infant, you might recall their unfocused stare and their unselfconscious movements and facial expressions.

It may not be immediately apparent to parents who spend day to day time with the baby, but adults who visit only occasionally are usually amazed at how much more that child is able to interact with the world each time.

Suddenly, it seems, that tiny child is able to focus on an object of fascination.  S/he responds to the direction of a particular sound and reaches for things. The baby exhibits what adults recognize as curiosity about the world around them and develops preferences.

Order out of Chaos

Babies come into a world of seeming chaos: sights, sounds, temperature, texture and more, with little in place to help them make sense of it all. They have to build the brain that will help them learn for the rest of their lives.

The task of their amazingly neuroplastic infant brains is to learn to recognize the constants that help them to derive meaning from a cacophony of stimulation that the majority of us learn to filter out – eventually.

And it is the task of the adults around them
to provide those constants.

As infants learn to recognize the simplest thing, as far as adult sensibilities are concerned, their brains grow and change their structures. As the baby’s brain learns that certain types of vibrations need to be visually interpreted, others audially, and so forth, it reorganizes its pathways for the most efficient recognition and interpretation of incoming data. It condenses the complexities of sensory awareness to comprehend “meaning.”

Assimilation of the basic concept of Mom, for example, requires a complex network of connections that, very quickly, allows the baby to understand that the source of his or her food is mother, and that she is one single element:

  • those hands are part of my mother,
  • those arms are part of my mother
  • that face is my mother smiling
  • that other face is still my mother, frowning
  • those sounds make up my mother’s voice
  • and I have a voice too

A lot of brain-based learning must take place before the baby assigns emotional or intellectual meaning to what s/he observes, eventually able to extrapolate expectations of sensory awareness to form new ideas about his or her world like, “I have a voice too.”

A LOT for our brains to learn

It makes sense that it might have seemed that brain-development is essentially a childhood task. Because young children have so much to learn so quickly, brain growth and change seems, by comparison, to stop in adulthood.

It has been postulated that, because of the size limitations of the birth canal in an upright-walking human being, our babies are born essentially nine months premature.  The increase in size of the infant’s brain after birth is phenomenal, compared to the growth in an adult brain. A baby’s brain doubles in size in their first year alone. By age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume.

Highways and Byways

It is a logical extrapolation that after a certain point, the brain would use what it has built in a manner similar to the way in which a city uses it’s roads to connect grocery store to neighborhood to a particular location in the center of town. There may be a hundred ways to drive from place to place, but nobody sober cuts through yards to form new roads that were never there before.

Except, with the brain, that hasn’t turned out to be exactly true.

Remember that you can always check out the sidebar
for a reminder of how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>

Brains reorganize throughout the lifespan

Neuroplasticity: The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.

Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment. ~

According to Wikipedia, “Neuroplasticity has replaced the formerly-held position that the brain is a physiologically static organ, and explores how – and in which ways – the brain changes throughout life.[2]

Let’s start there.

What does this mean for the adult brain?

Other than the fact that biology doesn’t HAVE to be destiny, science is not exactly sure yet.  Neuroscientists learn more about how the brain does what it does practically every day.

They still need to take a more in-depth look at what’s going on up there in our brains to be able to understand how brains maintain the ability to continue to learn throughout the lifespan, remaining healthy and vital as we age: understanding what helps and what hurts.

While it is certainly true that our brains prefer to use structures developed earlier in life – underscoring the importance of teaching to individual “learning styles” – learning itself would be impossible if the brain were not able to continue to develop new pathways.

Never stop learning – The brain thrives on structured stimulation!

As I told you in my prior article, You Don’t HAVE to Lose it as you age:

“There are theoretical reasons and animal studies that suggest learning something completely new, completely outside your previous domain of knowledge, may increase the level of brain growth factors [BDF] and increase the number of connections in the brain . . .  ~ Neurologist Glen Finney, member of the American Academy of Neurology, in an interview with The Huffington Post

While science will most likely be able to “prove” that BDF-facilitated growth into late adulthood is possible, pay attention to that word “structured” in the heading above. 

Since our brain is, essentially, a distributed network of connections designed to recognize patterns, it tends to hang on to structured information and discard relative chaos as irrelevant.  That alone underscores the importance of habit development: doing things the same way every time until the new behaviors have been integrated, indicating that new networks have been built.

Developing HABITs around chores and activities occurs relatively easily only in the presence of focused time, attention and repeated stimulation and activity – the deliberate creation of patterns for our brains to recognize and assimilate.

Related Post: Habits, Decisions & Attention

Prioritizing cognitive resources mandates follow-through

Follow-through means the willingness and ability to stay on the horse until the race is over – which is difficult for most of us in our crazy/busy world.

Even a great many of the well-known productivity gurus seem completely unaware of how rapidly we deplete the limited cognitive bandwidth dedicated to what the world refers to as WILLPOWER.

Developing the habit of putting treadmill tasks on autopilot releases cognitive bandwidth for attention to more important details.  As I explained in a prior article about the importance of putting systems on autopilot, willpower is not an unlimited resource.

ADD/EFD or not, when those simpler tasks we do to keep our lives on track and moving forward have not been systematized, we rapidly burn up our willpower reserves in our attempts to force ourselves to get everything done – with predictably dismal results.

The term “willpower” lacks specificity 

  • As I continue to say, the use of a single word makes it sound like a single thing, a simple thing entirely within volitional control – like the opposite of “won’t-power.”
  • In fact, willpower turns out to be composed of a combination of a great many smaller pieces of cognitive pie, each made up of a great many other ingredients.  Dropping out any one of them can derail efforts and decimate the resolve to continue to try.
    Many “procrastination experts” seem unaware of this particular dynamic.
  • EACH of the ingredients that combine to support our ability to keep on keepin’ on are part of a skill-set that is impaired in executive functioning struggles, regardless of cause – the very crux of attentional difficulties, as well as follow-through problems of many types.

Related Post: Implications: Symptoms of Attentional Struggles

The Lone-Ranger Approach is doing it the hard way

Most of us get lost navigating the maze of productivity information long before we can determine what we need to overcome our particular challenges to be able to soar.

Even once we have figured out what we need, we ALL do better with structures for accountability in place: deadline pressure, regular supervisory check-ins, even planning a party to encourage us to clean up the clutter so we won’t be embarrassed.

One of the most effective accountability structures is coaching – provided that the coach is a comprehensively trained professional with brain-based training.

The last thing any of us needs in a coach is somebody steeped in generalized productivity theory who is attached to efficacy of their particular training, unable or unwilling to understand and explore what helps and what hurts specifically.

I recently tried a more “generalist” coach myself.
Despite what I know, second-guessing myself nearly shut me down completely.

If you can possibly afford it, hiring a comprehensively trained brain-based coach is one of the best investments you can make in your Self and in your future.

For those of you who are fairly certain that you already know what you need but have difficulties staying on the horse, Peer Coaching with someone who has a bit of a foundation in brain-based coaching is a fee-free way to to enroll systematized accountability and follow-through support.  Using both strategies works even better!

ONE MORE MONTH until Peer Coaching Basic Training Begins

As those of you who are already officially enrolled learned by email, due primarily to frustrating computer, internet and WordPress glitches that slowed me down and tripped me up . . .

I have pushed back the start date of Peer Coaching Basic Training
until October 5th at 8:30 pm Eastern.

To enable me to stay on track henceforth, an on-site computer consultant is arriving on September 10th to see if he can find and fix a number of ongoing problems.

IN ADDITION, I decided to massage the content and hold the first session on a different bridge, so that I can make Session One available to anyone who is interested without payment. I will remain on the line for 30 minutes following the session for anyone has further questions.

MUCH more to come

Learning about what science has recently discovered about HOW your brain does what it does at different points in the human life-cycle will help you “Learn how to drive the very brain you were born with – even if it’s taken a few hits in the meantime™” — and will help you protect your cognition as you grow older.

Let me be your “content concentrator” on this topic (and others) — kind of a “Cliff Notes” resource (with lots of links to more information, for those of you who have time to explore on your own).

If you will leave questions and comments below, I will shape the content to come so that I explore what you are most interested in learning about or understanding FIRST.

Get it NOW, while its free for the taking – and SHARE BACK!

Remember to ring in with your thoughts and information too — and don’t forget to check out Peer Coaching Basic Training for some coaching help that won’t keep you tethered to payments

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IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help (one-on-one,couples or group) with anything that came up while you were reading this article, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

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(in case you missed them above)

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

27 Responses to Brains Need SYSTEMS to Develop

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  8. swamiyesudas says:

    Reblogged this on lovehappinessandpeace and commented:

    Hello, Folks!

    Found this post quite useful. This is what I had written in the comments section of Madelyn’s:

    Circumstances are forcing me to prepare myself on a number of fields, viz, the Water Situation in India and the World, the Declining Farming, the Harms of Methane and Fracking in India, (as eslewhere), and what not. Had not really thought I even ‘COULD’ study at my age. Now You understand what I mean by ‘encouraging!’

    The points about developing ‘Habits’ also prove very useful to me. So Thanks.

    Below are some of the points that I consider ‘touching’ my life and brain!

    All the Best to You All, too! Kudos to Madelyn. 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    • What an angel you are! I love it when people help me spread the good news.

      It breaks my heart that some of the old science is still out there, discouraging many people over 40 from attempting the very thing they need to keep their brains young and vital.

      Learning is certainly not as *easy* as it was when our brains were developing (first 20 years of our lives, on average, but especially in the first 7 – 9). However, the more new things you learn, the easier it becomes.

      I see you left a longer comment, so I’ll add more when I read and approve.

      Liked by 1 person

      • swamiyesudas says:

        Speaking of angels, I think Gabriella would be a good title for You, seeing You bring God’s Cheerful messages to mankind!

        Yes, the more I ‘study,’ the better I feel! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Awwww – very sweet! Education enlarges both mind and heart – so lifelong learning has gotta’ be good for the soul.

          Liked by 1 person

          • swamiyesudas says:

            Sure, my Dear Madelyn! Learning, Yes. But book learning, I take leave, (for the most part). 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Whatever you’re doing, it seems from here to be working. What is it they say? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

              Liked by 1 person

            • swamiyesudas says:

              Zigactly! Hehe! And not only that, my Dear Madelyn, I do consider it a good thing that the medical sciences have not progressed so much in India.

              In India, We have Fevers, at most catagorised into Flu, Malaria or Typhoid (in rare cases), and Colds, Coughs, Tooth and Belly Aches, etc, and an All time favourite, Tiredness or ‘Weakness’ as they villagers call it.

              Cured at Great expense (to the patient) by pills, and injections which, I am told, should be used as a last resort.

              Me, I have some pain ointments, but mostly I rely on reducing my Weight (brought down from 85 to 79 just now), Walking everyday and some exercise.



            • Congrats on the weight loss. Sounds like you are doing it the healthy way.

              Liked by 1 person

            • swamiyesudas says:

              Right, my Dear! 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  9. swamiyesudas says:

    My Dear Madelyn, quite an intersting read. And Very interesting piece of NEWS to me, and quite Encouraging!

    Am not at all the ‘scientific’ kind of guy, the only depth of knowledge is on the Bible. I find YOU quite the Scientist. My Congratulations.

    Circumstances are forcing me to prepare myself on a number of fields, viz, the Water Situation in India and the World, the Declining Farming, the Harms of Methane and Fracking in India, (as eslewhere), and what not. Had not really thought I even ‘COULD’ study at my age. Now You understand what I mean by ‘encouraging!’

    The points about developing ‘Habits’ also prove very useful to me. So Thanks.

    Below are some of the points that I consider ‘touching’ my life and brain!


    ‘There may be a hundred ways to drive from place to place, but nobody sober cuts through yards to form new roads that were never there before.

    Except, with the brain, that hasn’t turned out to be exactly true.’

    ‘Since our brain is, essentially, a distributed network of connections designed to recognize patterns, it tends to hang on to structured information and discard relative chaos as irrelevant. That alone underscores the importance of habit development:’

    ‘when those simpler tasks we do to keep our lives on track and moving forward have not been systematized, we rapidly burn up our willpower reserves in our attempts to force ourselves to get everything done – with predictably dismal results.’


    Let me end with Kudos, Love and Regards. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • WOW – it seems you not only read it, you studied it! Thank you so much for letting me know that you found it useful and encouraging. In my “alternate reality” I work in one of the neuro-fields, but in this one, the brain-science is merely a fascinating hobby of sorts.

      When I was first diagnosed with ADD at 38 – years ago now, but after almost a decade of therapy where it was never mentioned ONCE – nobody seemed to know much of anything about ADDults, so I began reading out of self-defense. There was so little written at that time, I had to go to the scientific literature to find much of anything at all. I branched out, following threads that might let me know how to drive my own brain.

      It was extremely slow going at first – and deadly dull reading (scientists are not particularly cogent writers) 🙂 – but it got increasingly easier as I kept at it, and I began to share in as conversational a fashion as possible. I wanted to offer help who didn’t have my desperate drive, educational background and passion for information, so were unlikely to go to the sources (after the first time or two, anyway).

      I’m leaving you links to a few other extremely encouraging posts below:
      You don’t HAVE to Lose it as you age
      Good news on brain-aging from The Nun Study

      They are written to be stand-alone, but you’ll get more out of them if you read them in the order listed. I introduced the topic with Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection

      btw – the evidence is clear that speaking more than one language is neuro-protective, which I am assuming applies in your case? You have already built alternative pathways that can be used to make new learning a tad easier than the “norm” for you age.

      Thanks for reading, ringing in – and especially for the help spreading the word.

      Liked by 1 person

      • swamiyesudas says:

        Thank You, my Dear Madelyn! I did go to the first link, but did not finish reading it. …I have two ideas that call for my time, as well as about 60 drafts at various stages. So You can understand Why.

        Thanks once again and Hearty Regards. 🙂


        • My DEAR man – the links are there for you *whenever* you want them – IF you ever do. I never intended them as homework.

          Of course I understand competing priorities – especially the lure of drafts awaiting your return, and chomping at the bit to get at them while the ideas are still warm.

          It’s always a struggle for me to find time for all I have to do, as well – not to mention factoring in time for what I *want* to do. Never pressure here.

          Liked by 1 person

          • swamiyesudas says:

            Sure, my Dear Madelyn! …I have downloaded dozens, maybe even hundreds of videos, even lengthy ones, (one hour and more), – because the service provider gave ‘free’ internet for some months – but not getting time to watch them! Hozzat! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Similar over here (different specifics) — I just deleted and marked as spam over 1,000 email newsletters from only a few lists. I’m not sure I signed up for any of them, and the total accumulation is too much!

              I’m drowning in info-overload. I am slowly getting rid of ALL “push” formats. If I want it, I’ll go get it. My blog-buddies and their info keep me busy enough.

              Liked by 1 person

            • swamiyesudas says:

              There, You took the words out of my mouth: ‘I’m drowning in info-overload.’ Though, I will confess, You put it VERY well!

              I have not allowed myself either into the overload. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

            • 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Kate McClelland.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks again for the reblog, Kate. You are the bestest of ALL the restest!

      Liked by 1 person

      • :0)

        Liked by 1 person

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