Want a sharper memory, better critical thinking skills, and a major boost to your brainpower? Follow this easy plan.
Society tells us that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks—that it’s harder for adults to learn new skills than it is for kids. And in many ways, that’s true: Babies have nothing to do but eat, sleep, and learn, while grown-ups are faced with all sorts of time, money, and real-life constraints. (Not to mention, we get annoyed when we’re not good at things right away.)
But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Rachel Wu, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside. In a new paper published in Human Development, Wu argues that using a childlike approach to learning can help people of any age take on and conqueror new challenges.
Not only will this help adults develop new talents and hobbies, Wu says, but research suggests that it can keep their brains young, delaying or slowing age-related cognitive decline.
Wu says that as we age, we transition from “broad learning” to “specialized learning,” focusing on our careers and specific areas of expertise. It’s that increasingly narrow specialization that leads to cognitive slowdown, she theorizes—initially in unfamiliar situations, but eventually all the time.
Instead of falling into this trap, Wu says, adults should embrace broad learning through the following six strategies. In children, these behaviors have been shown to increase basic cognitive abilities like working memory, inhibition, and attention. Wu predicts the same would be true for adults, too, if we’d actually give them a chance.