Openness to experience, or just being open, is a fundamental personality trait that indicates your receptiveness to new information, ideas, and experiences. In order to retain newly gained knowledge in our memory, related brain changes need to occur. New connections between neurons and synapses are formed in places such as the amygdala, the hippocampus, the cerebellum, and the prefrontal cortex, which are involved in memory processing. It was once believed that as we aged, the neural networks became more rigid due to insufficient exposure caused by a lack of learning. But in the past two decades, research reveals that the brain never stops changing and adjusting. The capacity of the brain to change with learning is called plasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections. Neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire of University College London (U.C.L.) conducted a study on London's taxi drivers who could navigate the smog-filled streets with ease, instantaneously calculating the swiftest route between any two points. In her earliest studies, she discovered that London taxi drivers had more gray matter in their posterior hippocampus (responsible for memory) than people who were similar in age, education, and intelligence but did not drive taxis. Although some neural functions appear to be hard-wired, certain neural networks exhibit adaptability and carry out specific functions while also retaining the capacity to deviate from their usual functions and reorganize themselves. Hence, neuroplasticity is generally considered a complex, multifaceted, and fundamental property of the brain.
As a teenager myself, I feel we have an exceptionally flexible brain. Personality traits and interactions with family, peers, and the community play a vital role in our holistic development. The studies of adolescent health and well-being also show the importance and impact of such interactions in shaping personal assets such as resilience, self-esteem, self-efficacy, sense of coherence, and level of perception.
Adolescents’ psychological well-being is defined concerning positive youth development and includes self-acceptance, positive intrapersonal relationships, autonomy, and life satisfaction. It's important to observe and adjust our attitude as we embark on the journey towards adulthood. A major milestone of becoming a teenager is finishing up one phase of life, leaving childhood behind, and entering another one, becoming a teen. It is a phase where being independent becomes paramount. This, in turn, causes a lot of stress and anxiety, which slowly builds up, leading to attitude issues. Relaxing activities like gardening, meditation, reading, drawing, etc., help to de-stress. If we embark on this phase with the right attitude, our life journey will become smoother.
As quoted by a motivational speaker and author, Zig Ziglar, “Your Attitude, not Aptitude will determine your Altitude.” It is our mental attitude that makes the world what it is for us. Our thoughts make things beautiful or ugly depending upon our attitude. According to the Oxford dictionary, “Attitude can be described as a settled way of thinking or feeling about something or someone.”
If we look around in today's world, most successful people, including professional athletes, actors, business people, artists, politicians, and spiritual leaders, attribute their success to one thing - the ‘power of positive thinking.’ Positive thinking fosters a positive attitude that improves self-esteem and promotes resilience even in difficult times. Intensive research has been carried out on how regular practice of meditation can relieve stress and anxiety and enhance the state of awareness and concentration level, thus elevating positivity and level-mindedness. One of the most interesting studies in the last few years, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (D.M.N.), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” A channelized mind works as an effective and efficient tool for our overall well-being.
We have all been a witness to the impact and changes the pandemic has brought throughout the globe. I feel qualities like compassion and empathy are essential and must be imbibed deeper by this generation as future leaders of the world to develop an ‘attitude of openness.’
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