You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Growing up, it was common for my father to use familiar figures of speech to express life lessons.  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” was one of those. As the good son in this scene, I accepted this at face value and carried this wisdom around with me as truth.  

Agile Best Self Principle 2 says “Approach change with curiosity, even late in the game”.  The comma conveniently separates this principle into two important ideas within the principle.  Approaching change with curiosity is something Michaele talks about a lot in how she addresses problems or challenges.  I like that thought also, and it starts with mindfulness.

The science around mindfulness (or meditation, if you like) is in its infancy, but the evidence of the benefits of it is building.  In this 2011 study, the Canadian and German scientists in their conclusion of the impact of mindfulness practices improved present-state awareness, state that their research “..demonstrate that for individuals with long-term practice of meditation, mindfulness induces a pattern of brain activity associated with acceptance of emotional stimuli and reduced interference from internal states, possibly reflecting enhanced present-moment awareness.”

My mindfulness practice has built the skill of seeing my thoughts from the outside looking in, which creates space to look at thoughts with curiosity and enabling new and potentially more beneficial responses.

Agile Best Self Principle #2: Welcome change with curiosity.

Morning Meditation

The second part of Principle 2 (“even late in the game”) was something that gave me a little more trouble.  I subscribed to my father’s wisdom, felt that my lot in life had already been mostly cast through genetics, with limited ability to make any real, profound change.  This changed the day I met Dr. Michael Gervais in May of 2017.  In his talk that day, he argued that it is possible to train the brain, just like we train our body or our craft.

That day he showed up with a long list of scientific arguments for neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity is term that describes the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.  It also starts with mindfulness, as the core skill to learn. I think about doing daily mindfulness, just like I think about working out at the gym.  If I can build these new neural connections up, maybe I really can learn to do new things. This thought definitely changed me going forward and helped me understand better what it meant to be an Agile leader.

So, maybe the old wisdom is not really true. I guess you could say you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Copyright © 2020 Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson

Published by Brian Hackerson

My personal philosophy is to be a light.

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