The human brain has limitless potential. That’s what I realized as I transformed myself from someone who could never pay attention in school and took the college entrance exam three years in a row to someone who successfully completed a degree in clinical pathology. I play many instruments, but I never formally learned how. I taught myself by picking up the flute and playing with it. With practice, I found the right techniques and gradually put together notes that sounded good to my ears. I am not a musical prodigy. I just believed I could do it.
Learning is about time. With time and effort, our magnificent brains can learn whatever we choose. However, before we can choose, we need to believe in our brains’ potential. In our current education system, children (and adults) are tested, categorized, and segmented on specific topics traditionally deemed important by society. From this perspective, they are told what they are good at or not and either given praise or criticism. In such an environment, students are not able to see their full potential. They believe what the system tells them and they are stuck with it. Their choices then become limited. If they are not given enough praise, because maybe they aren’t the best students, they come to believe that they have no value.
Yet we are all infinitely valuable. Education should help people realize their value. Learners need the satisfaction of finishing a task and the support to keep trying when they fail. Students need the courage to try anything and the freedom to explore and discover what they really want to learn. In a stream of constant praise coupled with constructive guidance, they can discover their intrinsic value — to follow their bliss, one that is independent of social trends and expectations. Armed with this sense, they can learn anything throughout their life. Their life can transform into one of perpetual learning, development, and growth.
Discovering your true value as a first step to further learning is a critical part of the education of character, an aspect of education that might be missing from many of our school systems. Yet it is one of the most important and supports all of the others. Good character — integrity, compassion, responsibility, sincerity — is an expression of strong self-worth. It requires developing skills and habits that are in alignment with one’s conscience through practice. The positive thoughts and emotions that accompany acting with good character are a form of self-praise, enhancing all the functions of your brain, and facilitating learning and creativity.
Learning, good character, start from inside. Love of self, the motivation to learn, the values on which one chooses to act, an indomitable sense of self-worth — the basics for successful learning — are all found inside of each person. Therefore, anyone can access them, from the top student to the most remedial learner.
What society needs now is the means to uncover them, like opening a treasure box hiding in darkness. The first step is to know it’s there, the second is to shine a light on it, and the last is to turn the key in the lock. Let us shine the light on the infinite potential of the brain and give each other the praise and practice to unlock it.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Brain World Magazine.