You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

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You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

As I’ve discussed in past blog posts, I am pursuing several volunteer activities as a retired person.  Some have been satisfying; some not so much.  My latest endeavor is with our local community hospital.  After hearing about my interest and experience in writing, the Director of Volunteers asked me if I’d like to help with the Volunteer Auxiliary Newsletter.  Of course, I felt like it was a perfect fit and I eagerly agreed.  It was only after my first meeting with the current Newsletter Editor that I realized that my new role includes the actual publishing and production of the newsletter, using Microsoft Publisher.  Yikes!  Writing is a no-brainer for me but software?  Gulp!

Now, I may not be a techie but that doesn’t mean that I can’t use a computer.  What’s new is that I am expected to use software that I’ve never used before.  My first thought was, where is my computer genius daughter, when I needed her?  And my retired programmer husband quickly exited the scene, saying, “I’ve never used that before.”  Fortunately, the current editor, Norma, is probably the nicest, most patient woman I’ve ever met.  She has been producing the newsletter for the last ten years and she’s ready to try something different.  Oh, did I mention that Norma is older than I am and figured out Publisher on her own?  I guess I will brace myself and face my fears!

Research suggests that you can and should teach an old dog new tricks.  The real trick, though, to keep our brains sharp, is to learn a difficult, as well as engaging new skill.  “It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially,” says psychological scientist and lead researcher Denise Park of the University of Texas at Dallas. “When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone.” (

Tips for Staying Mentally Sharp (

  1. Control cholesterol problems and high blood pressure. Cardiovascular health — having healthy blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure, along with being physically active, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking — was associated with better cognitive function in a 2014 study published in PLoS One.
  2. Don’t smoke or drink excessively. Because these are both seen as putting you at increased risk for dementia, kick the habit if you smoke and, if you drink, do so only in moderation.
  3. Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity is thought to help maintain blood flow to the brain and reduce your risk for conditions such as high blood pressure that are associated with the development of dementia.
  4. Eat a healthy diet. People who consume plenty of vegetables and fatty fish and keep away from saturated fats are thought to have a lower risk for cognitive decline.
  5. Stimulate your brain. Keep your mind active by increasing your level of social interaction, learning new skills, playing challenging games, and doing other activities that require an engaged mind. People who are more socially and intellectually involved are less likely to develop dementia.

Okay, so here I am, trying to stay mentally and physically healthy so that I can more effectively learn my new skill – which happens to be the software package, Microsoft Publisher.  But what about the actual learning process?  I still get very anxious with anything out of my cognitive comfort zone.

Tips for Learning a New Software Package

  1. Get a mentor, if you can. CHECK!  Norma has helped reduce my anxiety by being accessible and patient.  It also helps that she is over sixty too and learned the software on her own, just like me!
  2. Get an up-to-date version of the software you wish to learn to use. CHECK! I’m using the Microsoft Office version of Publisher and Windows 10.
  3. Play: Explore the Menu Bar. Try to give yourself an hour or so to just play around with your new software without being under time pressure to do something specific. CHECK! I actually spent more than an hour just “playing.”
  4. Ask a Search Engine. Search on word combinations like “Dreamweaver tutorial” or “tutorials for Google Sites” or “learning Inspiration”. You will be presented with an excessive number of hits and here is where we all need to cultivate keen intelligence for identifying the really good resources from the less good or fraudulent. I haven’t done this yet and I think this is good advice for me.
  5. Use the Built-In Help And Built-In Tutorials.  The Built-In Help is for quick questions; tutorials are for more systematic study. We might prefer a class or a human tutor but these resources are expensive, often inconvenient or unavailable.  Set aside two or three hours and working your way through a tutorial. Often tutorials come with software. Be sure to take time to copy them to your computer.  This is also great information and advice for me.
  6. Go to the Company discussion group, bulletin boards or FAQ. I intend to do this.
  7. Analyze Your Time. Learning anything takes time. What time of day and day of week is best for you? You will probably need chunks of at least two hours.  CHECK!  I’m finding that I start to lose my ability to concentrate for longer than two hours.
  8. Long Journeys, Small Steps. Try to master small, satisfying skills in a way that you can see your incremental progress and thus stay motivated. CHECK!  This seems to be true for learning Publisher.
  9. Accept Frustration, Take Pride. Develop an understanding that some frustration is inevitable and use it to “build character,” that is, strengthen your resolve to succeed. And when you do succeed, be proud and share your joy in your success with others. You deserve the credit and you’ll be encouraging them to do the same.  CHECK!  I’m on my way!

Are you learning a new skill?  I’d love to hear your story!


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