Did you know that scientific research found that the brain doesn’t fully develop – especially your prefrontal cortex, the problem solving part of your brain – until your mid-20s?
However, a neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College, London explained in a 2010 PhysOrg.com article that the brain continues to change shape well into your 30s and 40s. In fact, the prefrontal cortex of our brain takes the longest to develop and is the key area in charge of high cognitive functions: planning, decision making, social behavior, social awareness, emotional intelligence, and various personality traits.
So, when we are told to “grow up” and “get with the program” or “stop being so immature,” technically we can blame it on our brain development or lack there of. What does this have to do with the direction of our lives, especially now that we’re in the New Year and everyone is claiming 2015 as a better year for them? Everything.
Some people have always known what they wanted to do with their life, almost since birth. Every decision they made was a deliberate step toward their laser-focused goal. Trial and error, how so many of us make decisions, was never a factor for them. No, they make life look so easy. Some of these individuals could even be young millionaires, the Mark Zuckerberg’s of this world, that seem to have it all figured out. The gall!
In all seriousness, for every Mark Zuckerberg or any other brilliant young protégé there are many more ordinary people, some even considered “late bloomers,” who take their time or never even truly reach their zenith. Only later in life do they finally carve a path for themselves, find that niche they fit into and fully realize their ultimate potential and purpose for existence. And when you learn that your brain really doesn’t even finish developing until somewhere into your mid-40s it makes you understand a little better that finding your path and bettering yourself isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. It isn’t how fast we can run that first mile or even 15th. It’s how we finish the race. Some people just get to the finish line much faster than others, that’s all.
Some people really have accomplished everything on their bucket list by 25 or 30 or even 40. They’ve got a handful of homes, enough money that they might even have been able to retire early and perhaps set up a non-profit charitable organization or trust in their name. They can sail around the world. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But that’s not the reality for many of us. And that’s okay.
The toughest challenge we face is to rid ourselves of the 5 deadly Cs:
It might not appear too difficult to refrain from criticizing someone or complaining. But try it some time. It sounds easier said than done. Create a daily ledger and write down each time you say or think something critical about someone or complain about them or a situation in your life. In each instance you are releasing negativity into the universe that only serves to undermine your own path. Look around you; I’d bet that those in your life who are better at not criticizing or complaining are also a lot more successful.
Still, it’s even harder in my opinion to be agreeable versus contending every little thing in life. You don’t have to be a doormat in embracing a little diplomacy. There is truth to the saying, “You catch more flies with honey then you do with vinegar.” Being contentious all the time might play well on TV but in real life it more often drives people away. No one wants to have a relationship – personal or professional – with someone who fights tooth and nail at every turn. (And the same can be said for criticizing and complaining … see a trend developing here?)
Personally, what I find more difficult is avoiding comparing and competing with others, especially since these two negative traits tend to go hand in hand. I believe that both of these traits are much harder to overcome than the rest. You can be the type who never complains, who can put on a smile through the most arduous situation and see things through until the very end. You might be the politically correct type, the diplomat who is rarely contentious, no matter how wrong someone else might be. You might also be the type who repeatedly provides praise over criticism. But, herein lies the challenge: Our society continuously presents us with the opportunity to compare ourselves and compete with others.
If you look at social media, according to recent stats, Facebook still outranks its competitors because it’s the go-to measuring stick of personal achievement in our online world. It’s where we turn to brag, or even humble brag, about our jobs, houses, beautiful kids, business deals, vacations, new cars, opulent weddings, etc., etc. Compare, compare, compare. This is why I rarely update my status on my personal Facebook account. Instead, I use Facebook predominantly for lilpickmeup’s fan page.
But, let’s backtrack and dive into Facebook’s origin. Think about it, how did Facebook begin? Did you know it was a concept that literally compared and even pitted people against one another. It was naturally designed by and for college-age students to adhere to the same type of mentality — basically comparing two people and then asking users which person was “hotter.” Even now the concept is still the same. Facebook lives and breathes off of updates from people, all of which promote narcissistic and braggadocios behavior. The hotter your picture and the more you brag, the more “likes” you’ll get. The more “likes” you get, the more popular you appear. It’s that simple. Like, like, like.
It’s all about psychology, and it’s never ending. Businesses have picked up on this in droves are now using social media as a model to attempt to appear, at least via online, to have a digital presence. The more “likes” they receive, the more their brand becomes legitimate. Facebook has morphed into a tool for intriguing others with the hope that people become curious enough to want to know just who you are, what you’re selling and to start investigating your brand or company. And of course, the ultimate prize is to prompt them to buy if for no other reason than “everyone else is doing it.”
Some companies actually promote competition within their company and between employees because the belief is that everyone works harder when there’s something to gain or lose. Everyone works harder when it suddenly becomes survival of the fittest. However, not everyone works best off of being in some sort of race with someone else. Not everyone performs their best by trying to outdo their colleague. And ultimately, pitting people against one another and adhering to a “must compete” doesn’t quantify success.
Those who compete also compare, it’s extremely hard to separate the two. When you begin to focus on someone else’s progress, you take the focus off of your own. Competing is overrated. But now days it’s something that people love to brag about, as if being competitive makes them somehow smarter, wealthier, more successful than their peers. This is because our society awards the extrovert ideal, the loud, the brash and quick-thinking, over the introverted thinker. It’s ironic that such tools of extroversion such as Facebook are the brainchildren of introverts, even “oddballs,” like Mark Zuckerberg. But without these great thinkers, much of our technology and art would be absent from our world. This is precisely the subject of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
The Bottom Line
Some studies suggest our brains aren’t fully mature until at least 25 years of age and even then, it might not stop developing until as late as 40-something. Therefore, when it comes to making good or bad decisions, we have to remind ourselves that we’re constantly evolving, growing and hopefully learning from our mistakes. We can always strive for perfection, but since no one is perfect and nothing ever is, we’ll likely set ourselves up for disappointment.
All we can do is do our best by trying to avoid the 5 Cs: Comparing, Competing, Complaining, Criticizing, and Contending. In today’s society that is more difficult than ever. But keeping our eyes on the road ahead and setting realistic goals for ourselves helps us to focus on the attainable that truly makes us happy and to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. It is only then that we manifest what we want out of life and create our own happiness.