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Our brains are exposed to about 34 gigabytes of information per day.1 Some of these experiences, memories, or ideas are inevitably lost forever in the vaults of our minds, but some of these moments do leave a real memory that we can recall at will. Think of these moments, the ones we can remember, like dots in the past. When we try to form a picture of all the things we have experienced, we can connect these dots. But, how is this possible if we can’t see the dots we have yet to create?
When we think about the brain, most people have a vague understanding of how we form and store memories. However, the details about how the brain does this are usually limited to experts, which is exactly how most things in life work. When we need a surgeon, we see someone who has the knowledge and experience. When we need a mechanic, we do the same. When we want to really discuss the mechanisms within the brain, we need people who study neuroscience.
Part of the problem with the brain (and understanding how it works) is that it is so incredibly complex. What exactly should we measure as we try to figure out what is going on? Many scientists believe we should track spikes or firing neurons. But, that only tells part of the picture. We also need to record dysfunction in the brain, such as problems with communication or synaptic growth.2
Trying to figure out what happens in our brains without having all the information is the same as trying to connect the dots in our own lives. We need bits of information about the brain to draw the whole picture. We need to be able to look back at our actions and thoughts and ideas to draw a picture of ourselves.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.
Steve Jobs spoke at the 2005 commencement of Stanford University, where he discussed the idea of the dots. He explained how his working-class parents were using all their money to get him through college. He decided it wasn’t worth it and he stopped taking formal classes. Instead, he dropped in on those he found interesting.
He attended a calligraphy class, which would later give him the inspiration to create fonts on his new computer. If he hadn’t dropped out, he probably would never have found that one class on that particular day. For him, the dots lined up just right to help create what we now call Apple. He was able to connect these different experiences into a cohesive story. If you know the story of Steve Jobs, you know he was initially fired and then rehired years later to revive Apple into a megacorporation.
When we think about our own experiences (our ‘dots’), we cannot possibly connect them if we only look forward because they simply aren’t there. Those moments have not occurred yet. But, we can look back and know those dots helped us get to where we are now--and realise they can help guide us as we go forward.
About my Brain Institute
In 2009, Relmi Damiano co-founded the About my Brain Institute alongside scientist and leadership expert Silvia Damiano. Their vision is to democratise leadership & neuroscience by shaking up how we develop the human, the leader and the creative we all carry within.