By Toby Moore
For Capital Region Independent Media
The maxim “Use it or lose it” is heard so often it’s practically a background track to our lives. But wait! Before you glaze over, have you ever considered the gravity behind this statement?
It’s not just a snappy saying — it’s a golden nugget of wisdom with far-reaching implications.
The workings of the brain are spellbinding. Picture your brain as a thriving tree in a lush forest. Each new piece of knowledge you gain is like planting a seed that eventually sprouts into branches and leaves. This isn’t poetic license; it’s backed by the science of neuroplasticity — the brain’s incredible ability to form new neural connections throughout life.
Each time you learn or practice a skill, you reshape your brain and strengthen neural pathways, fortifying those branches and leaves on your cerebral tree. In this way, your brain doesn’t just store information, it evolves, hardwiring itself to flourish when you practice or learn something over time.
I began competitive swimming as a child, which was far from natural, but I was determined, and every lap I swam was like adding another leaf to a growing branch in my “swimming tree” in the brain. Each practice session was a mental workout, a “branching out” in my neural forest, solidifying the pathways that would improve my abilities.
I was learning to cut through the water more efficiently and grasping intricate techniques that required keen mental focus. While athletics is primarily seen as a physical endeavor, the cerebral component is enormous.
If you find the “learning tree” concept captivating, you’ll be equally intrigued by the neuroscience of “pruning.”
When you neglect other learned abilities or information, those corresponding branches in your brain don’t get the same nourishment.
Just as a gardener would trim away the dead or overgrown branches to let a tree flourish, your brain also conducts selective maintenance.
Pruning is when the brain cuts out extra connections between neurons. This helps the brain work more efficiently by eliminating pathways it doesn’t need.
This is one reason why we forget things that we haven’t thought about in a long time.
Every so often, I feel the urge to get in swimming shape again, but let me tell you, those first few laps? A downright battle!
So, while my brain still holds the blueprints of a capable swimmer, the lack of recent practice means those finely tuned circuits are no longer firing on all cylinders.
Have you ever had that frustrating “tip of the tongue” moment when you can’t recall a word or name?
What about long division after years of not thinking about math? It’s like trying to crack the Da Vinci code without a cipher. For me, those branches have been pruned.
If you don’t regularly engage your mind and reinforce what you’ve learned, your mental acuity in those specific subjects may decline.
Brain pruning extends beyond mere skills and talents; it touches the very core of our dreams and ambitions. Your deepest aspirations require constant nourishment and attention. Whether penning poetry, mastering the guitar, or revolutionizing digital design, each dream has its dedicated neural pathway that thrives on focus and diligence.
Another way to think of it is that our brains are like librarians, constantly deciding which books — skills, memories, abilities — deserve prime shelf space and which should be stored in the attic.
When you choose not to follow your dreams, you’re pruning a part of yourself that once flourished. Keep those neural pathways strong and connected and watch them grow into full-fledged realities.
The lesson here is to actively nurture the pathways in your brain that matter most to you, whether that’s your dreams, goals or cherished friendships. If you neglect them, your brain might prune these connections away, making it seem as if they never existed.
The “use it or lose it” principle is life’s ultimate maintenance guide. It’s a nudge to action. Your skills, your relationships, your dreams — think of them as a cherished garden. Left unattended, even the prettiest rose bushes turn to weeds.
So? What are you waiting for? Exercise that gray matter! You’ve got nothing to lose but everything you don’t use.
Toby Moore is a columnist, the star of Emmy-nominated “A Separate Peace,” and the CEO of Cubestream Inc.