There’s been a lot of exciting research in neuroscience over the years, but perhaps the most heartening discoveries for anyone interested in career growth are related to the advanced understanding of neuroplasticity – the brain’s continuing ability to adapt and change to accommodate new stimuli throughout your life. Former assumptions about the brain becoming fixed and unchanging after a certain age have been overturned. So whether you need to learn a whole new skill set to get ahead at your current job, or are thinking of heading out on a completely different career path, your brain’s up for the challenge. You and your career can change and grow – and even temporary unemployment shouldn’t be considered an obstacle. If anything, it just might be the kind of jolt your brain needs to keep those neurons firing.

Exercise your brain regularly

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that, in order to become a master in your chosen field – painter, plumber, lawyer, carpenter, name it – you need to spend roughly 10,000 hours doing something before it becomes second nature. Whenever you try to learn anything new, you’re activating connections between neurons that may not be very strong. Just as your muscles can atrophy through disuse, the connections between neurons will suffer due to a lack of activity. You need to be patient while those connections are being re-established. Change won’t happen overnight. But take heart in knowing that the hours do add up, and before you know it, you’re an expert.

Learning shouldn’t be boring

Starting to feel genuinely interested in something is a definite sign that formerly weak neuronal connections are getting stronger. If you can’t get interested in one aspect of the career you’re pursuing, then get interested in another one. Read journals, magazines, and watch movies about people who went through what you’re going through now. There are ample resources to satisfy your curiosity. Feeling engaged with the industry you’re working in is crucial. Studies show that the more one feels engaged in the learning process, the swifter new information can be processed and assimilated – and that means stronger neural connectivity in your brain, and greater confidence in yourself.

It’s never too late to change

If you’ve been through an extended period of unemployment, or felt stuck in a job that leaves you little room to grow, then you know that keeping your brain sharp is absolutely necessary. Letting yourself slip into routine patterns of behaviour is a sure way to limit your potential. Without introducing any alterations into your habitual routine by learning and experiencing new things, you’re essentially letting some neuronal connections remain active in your brain, while allowing others to weaken. In other words: losing it instead of using it. And why would you want to do that?

Your career can change throughout your entire life, just like your brain. But neural networks are a lot like social networks: if you want to make new connections, you’re going to have to put in some time and effort – and be prepared to occasionally step outside your comfort zone. And just remember: you already have everything you need to succeed. It’s all right there between your ears.