I‘ve been studying about strengths lately.
Why we’re wired the way we are. Why some of us naturally have certain talents, and others don’t. Why some of us seem to have figured out a way to shine our talents brightly in the world, and others are having a hard time expressing them in everyday life.
Turns out the leading research on strengths has surprising neurological underpinnings.
From birth to about age three, our brains are rapidly growing, most especially the number of neural synapse connections within our brains. And when I say rapidly, I mean that each of our hundred billion neurons has made fifteen thousand neural synapse connections.
And then right around our third birthday, something really fascinating happens.
The brain does an about-face and from year 3 to about year 16 in our development: instead of growing, it begins to shrink. The brain spends the next 13 years going through a massive pruning project, slowly but surely decreasing in size and neural connections—because when it comes to synapses, what you don’t use, you lose.
It seems as though, physiologically, an individual’s brain becomes stronger by becoming smaller and more selective.
Our brain actively practices the art of pruning during the very years when we, arguably, develop and grow the most radically. Could it be that the way forward is hidden in knowing what we need to take away instead of what we need to add to our lives?
When we can become skilled at selectively knowing what to prune out of our lives, what remains becomes stronger, brighter, clearer. Our time and attention can be focused to produce beautiful, rich fruits.
But the art of life pruning is hard to strengthen in a busy, loud, and consumer-driven life.
I was reminded of this recently when a women in one my courses shared that she finally hit a breaking point with the clutter in the playroom. She took a contractor-sized garbage bag and filled it to the brim with every single toy in the room. Instead of throwing it all away, though, she simply put it out of eyesight temporarily.
Then she gave herself and her child some time to acclimate to the openness, the spaciousness, the uncluttered-ness of the room. And from that place of clarity and inner calm, she was better able to return a few intentionally-chosen toys back into the rotation, and donate the rest.
Practicing inner calm and quiet is the prerequisite for strengthening the muscle of knowing what needs to be pruned from our very full lives.
What if we prioritized time in our lives to get still and ask ourselves, “What do I want more of right now?”
And then, from that answer, ask, “What things in my life may be inhibiting or blocking it from flowing more freely into my life?”
It’s a bit of a counter-cultural perspective when we’ve been conditioned to immediately solve every feeling of lack or desire with something to “fill up” the gap we are experiencing. The art of life pruning suggests that maybe the wisest action is removing something that’s inhibiting what we want more of, rather than adding more to our plates.
It’s trusting that the seeds of what you want more of in your life are already there. And that the most important job, often, is in the consistent weeding to make space for healthy growth to happen.
What are you being called to prune right now in your life?