Piano Blog

A piano teacher's notes and successes!

The Science of the Lazy Brain

Saturday, September 19, 2020 by Becky Brouwer | Practicing, parenting, performance

What if you could have your child immediately put their dishes in the dishwasher after they eat, do all their homework as soon as they are home from school or practice their instruments every day without a fight? What about getting themselves ready for school and not need reminding about what to bring? What would that world look like?

Our brains are set up to function efficiently. It’s a really smart system. Like a river that finds it’s way down a hillside where it meets least resistance, our brains will find the most efficient way to complete a task with the least amount of effort. 

We can use this system to our advantage by establishing patterns and habits so our brains don’t have to think and will just do. Cutting that path is the hard part because it goes against what’s easy for your brain. But if you persevere with patience, you can develop habits that will make things easier in the long run.

In the book “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning”, Peter Brown explains that advertisers, influencers and politicians persuade us to buy their product or change our mindset because of a stimulus or cue. When we run our tongue over our teeth, if we feel gritty, it makes us want to brush our teeth. This wasn’t always the case though. We had to be conditioned to run our tongue over our teeth and recognize that what we felt meant we should brush our teeth. Just like Pavlov’s dog was conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell, we can condition ourselves to any habit through a stimulus.

At the beginning of the summer, I made chore cards for my children. They are just simple cards with 20 different jobs on them; clean bedroom, brush teeth, play outside, outdoor chore, 30 min reading, practicing piano, etc. When the card is completed, they can ask for time on screens or to play with friends. The stimulus for them is wanting to play with friends or on screens. Any good habit delivers rewards. It may seem that the reward is playing with friends or on screens, but there is another reward; checking off the boxes. Checking off boxes gives your brain a dopamine hit that is subtle but increases your desire to continue getting more. This is why Better Practice App can be so effective. Through simple cues such as getting home, eating a snack and sitting down to play the piano before going out with friends or playing on screens, children will form habits that will help them to manage their lives more effectively. 

Just like a river cutting it's way down a hillside will deviate when it comes across an obstacle, we can manipulate obstacles or cues to help ourselves to the path we want to be on. Children are learning to manage their time. Parents can't expect them to do this on their own. Most children need to be taught how to manage their time effectively. Having a consistent schedule that includes activities that involve delayed gratification like playing an instrument will help them to learn how to manage other difficult tasks and goals in the future. Your brain wants it to be easy, so make it easy by putting a little more effort into building habits that you know will benefit you in the future. 

And now I'm going to tick "Write a blog post" off my list!