We become what we do over & over & over … (resolutions pt. 2)

[Adele Diamond, the moving force behind the Brain Development and Learning Conference (see CONFERENCE Tab above), was kind enough to email me this response to my last blog — Willpower, free will, & New Year’s resolutions.]


Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) image from “io9” (2010) at http://goo.gl/XZ6AP

Prefrontal cortex (PFC) — to which I have devoted my life’s work — is over-rated. It is true that to learn something new, we need PFC. Thus, novices who recruit PFC most usually perform best (Duncan & Owen, 2000; Durston et al., 2006; Kane & Engle, 2002). However, after something is no longer new, those who recruit PFC least usually perform best (Garavan, Kelley, Rosen, Rao, & Stein, 2000; Jansma, Ramsey, Slagter, & Kahn, 2001).


PFC is the evolutionarily newest region of the brain. Other brain regions, which have had hundreds of thousands more years of evolutionary time to perfect their functioning, can subserve task performance much more efficiently than PFC.

So I need PFC to learn a new dance step, but later if I try to think about what my feet are doing while dancing, I will not dance well. Similarly, children need PFC to learn what sound goes with what letter, but when a fifth grader reads, we no longer want the child to be thinking about letter-sound mapping; we want that to become automatic.

A child may know intellectually (at the level of PFC) that he should not hit another, but in the heat of the moment if that knowledge has not become automatic (passed on from PFC to subcortical regions) the child will do exactly what he should not (and exactly what, if you asked him, he knows he should not do).

Montessori (2007) emphasized the critical importance of the child’s repetition over and over again for education. The only way something becomes automatic (becomes passed off from PFC) is through action — repeated action. The only way we become really good at something, whether it is piano playing or chess [or, I’m guessing, acting in a way that is inherently healthy and not seeing it as a form of self-deprivation], is through repeated practice. Nothing else will do. Aristotle commented on this back in the 4th century BC.

Image source: Flickr CC Attribution 11304375@N07/2769553173

Image source: Flickr CC Attribution 11304375@N07/2769553173

Our expectations often determine outcomes. I suggest that we start with the deeply held conviction that every child is capable of succeeding at what we teach.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons -- Goethe_(Stieler_1828)

Image source: Wikimedia Commons — Goethe_(Stieler_1828)

When a child is not succeeding, ask yourself how you might do something differently so that this particular child is able to succeed. If we believe every child can succeed then we will push ourselves to think outside the box and try something new and different that might, just might, work for a particular child. Sometimes our testing method is the problem; we are not asking the question in a way that allows children to demonstrate the knowledge and abilities they have (Diamond, Churchiand, Cruess, & Kirkham, 1999; Diamond & Gilbert, 1989; Diamond, Kirkham, & Amso, 2002; Diamond & Lee, 2000; Diamond, Lee, &Hayden, 2003).”


Additional references on the powerful role of expectations and attitude (others’ and your own)

Searching for interesting resources …

I want to add new resources which will be of interest to people coming to BDL 2013 to the interactive library , so today I started searching Twitter hashtags. This took me to an interesting mind map created with a new online tool  called BlogSummarizer that turns search results into a visual mind map.

Googling a term like ‘cognition’ gives back an unmanageably long list of items with no apparent organizing principles.

millions of hits

Using BlogSummarizer yields a visual mind map that shows concepts and connections.

blogsummarizer cognition

Clicking on ‘Brain’ in the graphic returned 5 sources …

expansion of 'brain' in the original mind map and from there I chose: “Snakes in a brain scanner!” which in turn took me to …

link to online journal

(image linked to blog)

and an article about  brain scans of people trying to overcome their fear of snakes. One conclusion in the article is it’s easy to mistake physiological signs of courage — i.e. momentary fear suppression — for successful fear eradication. This research may also lead to a way to control fear and phobias with meditation or “transcranial magnetic stimulation” that dampens the activity in the region associated with high fear and courageous response.

One of the themes at BDL2013 will be: Trauma, Stress & Healing; Integrating Mind, Body, & Spirit. Take a look at the brochure for presentations you can attend to find out  how traumatic experiences are encoded in neural architecture and techniques you that are being shown effective in promoting healing and the raising of resilient children.

As for those Twitter hashtags I mentioned at the outset? You’ll find a new page under the Interactive Library tab above called “Searching Twitter“. If you want to suggest a hashtag to watch or Twitterer to follow, please reply with a comment. We’ll tweet out your recommendations using the hashtag #BDL_2013. Thanks.

There’ve been some changes made ….

Hi everyone,

BDL2013 is only 8 months away!!! If you haven’t visited the Conference website recently, you’ll see that a lot of new speakers have joined the lineup. There’s also more information on the Learning Objectives of their talks to help you make the tough choice of who to see when there’s more than one presentation at the same time.

Sue Hellman has offered to take over this blog, and she’s given it quite a makeover. It’s now in a mobile-friendly format which rescales automatically so it displays well on screens of all sizes. The Conference links have been moved up top to a drop down menu for more convenient access. In the sidebar of the Welcome page there are buttons for following us by email or RSS feed. Sue’s added a feed from the award-winning blog by Pr. Billy O’Connor — Inside the Brain: What neuroscience teaches us — to the sidebar of the BLD blog page as well as an interview with Adele Diamond (the moving force behind the Brain Development and Learning Conference) on the About Us page.

Those of you who were familiar with the old format may also notice that the blogroll is gone.

Image of bread knife stuck in a stale roll

Image source: martin_thomas/3292783750 (2009) in Flickr CC BY 2.0. — hot dog roll under attack.

Those links have been incorporated into a wonderful new Interactive Library of resources with its own tab in the top menu bar and tagged Top picks — Adele to make them easy to find.  Sue will continue to add resources to this Scoop.it collection over the next few months, so check back regularly for updates, or join Scoop.it and follow this topic. If you have links to contribute, please reply below or make a comment or suggestion directly on the Scoop.it.

We appreciate all feedback. Enjoy!!!


  • Early registration closes on Feb. 15, 2013. You may register online at http://goo.gl/7ENF or use the pdf form at http://goo.gl/l0UQ6. (If, like me, you long for a way to fill in pdf’s on your computer, try PDF Escape. It’s a free service for uploading and filling in these kinds of forms. When you’re done download, save, and  email the completed form as an attachment — no printer or scanner needed.)
  • If (a) your family income is  below $50,000 or between $50 000 & $90 000, (b) you’re of aboriginal descent, or (c) you’re coming from the Far North, you qualify for a reduction in your registration fee. Take a look at the Scholarships page for details.

Blogs for Your Brain

If you like our blog here are some other blogs you might enjoy:

Adult ADD Strengths:

Pete Quily, an adult ADHD coach in Vancouver, British Columbia, provides current information and advice for adults living with ADHD/ADD.

Assistance for Body, Mind, and Soul:

A blog for people that use assistance/service dogs. The blog’s primary aim is to help people relate their experience and provide information to others that utilize service dogs in their daily lives. Affiliated with West Coast Assistance Teams Society, which provides BC-certified assistance dogs for people with physical and psychiatric disabilities.

CHADD Leadership Blog:

Written by CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD) CEO, E. Clarke Ross, the CHADD Leadership Blog provides a regular commentary on topics pertaining to ADHD.

Curious Dad:

A former staff writer for the Vancouver Sun discusses issues related to parenting and being a dad in Vancouver.

Teen Mental Health Blog:

Dr. Stan Kutcher (renowned teen mental health expert), and David Venn share scientifically-validated information about adolescent mental health. Affiliated with www.teenmentalhealth.org

You and Me…and Adult AD/HD:

Gina Pera, author of Is it You, Me, or Adult ADD, explores adult ADD and its impact on family and relationships.