Number Crunching and Neuroscience

Jun 01, 2020

If you own an older car but recently needed to rent one, the first thing you might notice when you sit in the driver’s seat is how much that shiny, new dashboard resembles NASA’s mission control. Despite all the car’s obvious capabilities, you’re determined to use only the essentials so as not to do anything you can’t undo. The same impulse affects our careers. Sometimes we stick to the basics so we don’t break anything we can’t fix. This practice keeps us rigidly stuck in our ways. The longer we’re at a task, the less ease we have in adapting to change.

Neuroscience indicates that there may be a way around this internal inflexibility. Early neuroscientists discovered that the brain seems capable of repairing itself. Neuroplasticity is the term psychologists use to describe the modifications the brain makes in response to experiences. This field is leading the way in thwarting cognitive decline, dementia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many medications can temporarily alter brain activity, but rewiring the brain through cognitive exercise is something that scientists continue to investigate with the hopes of discovering more permanent resolutions.

Imagine if you could revitalize your brain, like a mental face-lift. It would probably cost a fortune, right? Not necessarily.

The first step in a cognitive training program is to stop being sedentary. The correlation between physical and mental health is well-documented. Physical activity has been shown to activate the elements of your brain that mold abilities to learn and retain. Studies show that children who have had physical activity integrated with their math and science curricula showed better retention and assessment scores.

Then there are the brain-training apps one might find online. They have been growing in popularity and now constitute an industry of more than a billion dollars. There is considerable debate over whether these apps can expand intellectual prowess. In theory, they are designed to test and improve the flexibility and agility of your mental faculties. The problem is that many of these apps haven’t undergone rigorous clinical testing to determine their efficacy, and many that have been tested had inconclusive results. Other studies suggest that learning to play an instrument, teaching, or learning a new skill or language are all activities that can help wire your brain to resist the natural deterioration that comes with age.

These skills may not help with technical accounting analysis, but they may help you retain the mental pliability you need to adapt as the accounting industry continues to grow and change. From client deadlines to family demands, our brains are seized by expectation. Fear is a biological form of protection, and a brain filled with high expectations can become accustomed to those stressors. Being acclimated to stress doesn’t make it less harmful. Acclimation simply means that our brains find ways to deal with it. When artificial intelligence and societal changes pose obstacles for our industry, anxiety kicks in for many of us. As anxious scenarios repeat, our brain adapts to that constant and unhealthy state of stress. Rigidity sets in. This is not a condition that you have to accept.

Whether you choose a brain app, yoga, or meditation as a first step in cognitive retraining is up to you. The important thing is to clear the space required for your brain to regenerate from the daily stressors of life.

If you’re one of those firm partners who refuses to retire, you’ll be happy to know that if breakthroughs continue in the world of neuroplasticity, you may never have to. You could die doing what you love and be as sharp on the way out as you were at your peak.

If you’re one of the many who wishes you could retire but can’t, finding a useful brain app may at least stop you from wandering into the supply room wondering what you came in there for. 

Alyzabeth R. Smith, CPA, is a senior associate with Siegfried Advisory in Wilmington, Del. She is a member of PICPA Council and the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. She can be reached at

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