“But what guides those inclinations? The will? It’s well known we only really recall things we’re interested in…so which half of the mind has more of its hand on the wheel of volition, or will, which one tries to control it, and which one “let’s it be?” Nordicvs
I came across a very interesting explanation of this in what is called the Strengths Test by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. I was asked to do this Test recently, and was most surprised to see what mine were. This Test is now used by many businesses to manage their staff and even to establish whether someone is suitable for a job. The test basically establish what your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior are. These establish your strengths your innate inclinations. They explain it in the following way.
“The brain is an odd organ in that it seems to grow backward. Your brain gets very big very quickly and then shrinks into adulthood. Most bizarre of all, as your brain becomes smaller and smaller, you become smarter and smarter.
The secret to making sense of this topsy-turvy organ can be in what is called a ‘synapse.’ A synapse is a connection between two brain cells (neurons) to communicate with one another. These synapses are your threads, and you need to know about them because, as it says in one neurology textbook, “ Behavior depends on the formation of appropriate interconnections among neurons in the brain.”
Your synapses create your talents.
So how are your synaptic connections made? Forty-two days after you are conceived, your brain experiences a four month growth spurt. Actually, the word ‘spurt’ doesn’t do justice to the scale of what happens. On your forty-second day you create your first neuron, and 120 days later you have a hundred billion of them. But once this explosion dies down, much of the neuron drama is over.
Elsewhere in your brain, however, the real drama, the synapse is just beginning. Sixty days before you are born your neurons start to communicate with one another. Each neuron reaches out – literally – a strand called an axon – and attempts to make a connection. Whenever a successful connection is made a synapse is formed, and during the first three years of your life, your neurons prove phenomenally successful at making these connections. In fact by the age of three each of your hundred billion neurons has formed fifteen thousand synaptic connections with other neurons. Fifteen thousand connections for each of your hundred billion neurons. Your pattern of threads, extensive, intricate and unique, is woven.
But then something strange happens. For some reason nature now prompts you to ignore a lot of your carefully woven threads. As with most things, threads that are neglected fall into disrepair, and so across your network connections start to break. You become so inattentive to parts of your mental network that between the ages of three and fifteen you lose billions and billions of these carefully forged synaptic connections. By the time you wake up on your sixteenth birthday, half your network is gone.
And the bad news is that you can’t rebuild it. Yes, over the course of your life your brain does retain some of its early plasticity. For example, it now appears that learning and memory require the formation of new synaptic connections, as does figuring out how to cope with the loss of a limb or your eyesight. However, for most practical purposes, the configuration of your mental network, with its range of stronger to weaker connections, doesn’t change much after your mid-teens.
Why would nature do this? Why would it expand with so much energy creating this network only to let large chunks of it wither and die? The answer to this question, as educator John Bruer describes in his book ‘The Myth of the First Three Years’, is that when it comes to the brain, ‘less is more.’ It is not true that the more synaptic connections you have, the smarter you are or the more effective. Rather, your smartness and your effectiveness depend on how well you capitalize on your strongest connections. Nature forces you to shut down billions of connections precisely so that you can be freed up to exploit the ones remaining.
Initially, nature gives you more connections than you will ever need because during those first few years, you have a great deal to soak up. But soaking up is all you are doing. You are not yet making sense of your world. You can’t because with this abundance of connections you are overwhelmed by so many signals from so many different connections. To make sense of your world you will have to shut out some of the noise in your head. Nature helps you do just that over the next decade. Your genetic inheritance and early childhood experiences assist you in finding some connections smoother and easier than others. You are drawn to these connections time and again until they become tighter and tauter. To use an Internet analogy, these are your superfast T1 lines. Here the signals are loud and strong.
Meanwhile, ignored and unused connections in other parts of your network wither away. No signal can be heard. For example, if you end up with a T1 line for competitiveness, when you see numbers, you cannot help using them to compare your performance with other people’s. Or if you wind up with a T1 line for inquisitiveness, you are the kind of person who can’t hep asking why. Or perhaps you have no connection for empathy. Rationally, you understand that empathy is important, but moment by moment you just can’t seem to pick up the signals that other people are sending.
On a microscopic level your mental network, ranging from smooth T1 lines all the way to broken connections, explains why certain behaviors and reactions “just feel right” to you, while others no matter how hard you practice, always seem stilted and forced. This is as it should be. If nature didn’t whittle down your network to a smaller number of strongly forged connections, you would never become an adult. You would remain a permanent child, frozen in sensory overload.
Author Jorge Borges imagined what such a character might be like. He told of a boy ‘possessed of an infinite memory. Nothing escapes him; all of his sensory experience, past and present, persists in his mind; drowned in particulars, unable to forget the changing formations of all the clouds he has seen, he cannot form general ideas, and therefore … cannot think.’ A boy like this wouldn’t be able to feel, either, or build relationships or make decisions of any kind. He would lack personality, preference, judgment, and passion. He would be talentless.
To save you from this fate, nature and nurture reinforce some connections and allow billions of others to fade away. And so you emerge – a distinctly talented individual blessed and/or cursed to react to the world in your own enduringly unique way…
Our talents feel so natural to us that they seem common sense. On some level it is quite comfortable to believe that the ‘sense’ we make of the world is ‘common’ to everyone. But in truth our sense isn’t common at all. The sense we make of the world is individual. Our ‘sense’, our recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior, caused by our unique mental network. This network serves as a filter, sorting and sifting the world we encounter, causing us to zero in on some stimuli and miss others entirely …
Talents have not only an “I can’t help it’ quality to them but also an ‘it feels good’ quality. Somehow nature has crafted you so that with your strongest connections the signals flow both ways. Your talents causes you to react in a particular way, and immediately a good feeling seems to shoot back up the T1 line. With these signals flowing smoothly back and forth, it feels as if the line is reverberating, humming. This is the feeling of using a talent.
By imbuing talents with their built-in feedback mechanism, nature has ensured that you will keep trying to use them. In a sense, talents are nature’s attempt at a perpetual motion machine. Nature causes you to react to the world in certain recurring ways, and by making those reactions feel satisfying, it pushes you to react in that way again and again, ad infinitum.
This raises interesting questions.
Is the universe a cosmic accident or an intelligent design?
Looking at the above it is indeed amazing that each of us develops in such a unique way. According to the Strengths theory it is virtually impossible to change your network after 16. You can develop the skills ( steps of an activity) of your talents, thus make a few more connections, but to learn a new talent would require you reweave your entire network. You may only really discover and fully utilize your talent later in life but you are always filtering every decision you make through your particular network.
One can then easily turn one’s thoughts to karma, and destiny because your unique network, your unique pattern will ensure that you experience the world in a unique way causing you to learn certain lessons as a result of how you react. Just like the story in the Bible about the talents we can choose to bury our talents and passively let it happen to you, squander it, or use it pro-actively to help make the world a better place.
And just as they say about the “StrengthFinder” test;
You can’t fail StrengthsFinder because every signature theme contains the promise of a strength. The only possible failure would be never managing to find the right role or the right partners to help you realize that strength.
Learning the skillful means in the perspective revealed does indeed transform for me the karmic knots from a burden to a “creative limitation” within which to experience joy in the divine play of this magical display of reality.