There’s a belief that as we grow older, we can’t learn new skills, or retain certain information, such as a new language.

But, a new theory created by psychology professor Rachel Wu proposes that our cognitive health, or mental ability, can remain “sharp” if we continue to learn in the same manner we did as kids.

Read: How Learning A New Language Changes Your Brain And Your Perception

“We argue that across your lifespan, you go from ‘broad learning’ (learning many skills as an infant or child) to ‘specialized learning,’ (becoming an expert in a specific area) when you begin working, and that leads to cognitive decline initially in some unfamiliar situations, and eventually in both familiar and unfamiliar situations,” Wu said, in a news release.

In the paper, published in the journal Human Development, Wu and her colleagues discuss specific factors that define “broad learning,” which promotes child development. They argue that if adults also embrace these, their cognitive ability may improve, instead of naturally decline.

6 Factors of “Broad Learning”

1. Open-mindedness

The researchers emphasize the importance of continuing to learn new skills and being open to doing activities outside of your comfort zone.

2. Guidance

They suggest to surround yourself with teachers and mentors who will guide learning throughout your life.

3. Growth mindset

If you put in the necessary work and effort, you can grow your abilities.

4. Forgiving environment

Mistakes and failure are both part of the process.

5. Commitment

Be committed to mastering essential skills, even if you fail in the process.

6. Multi-task

Learning multiple skills at the same time.

The authors argue that intellectual engagement (via the six factors) declines as we age and move from “broad learning” to “specialized learning.” During childhood, they believe the factors increase mental skills such as working memory, inhibition, and attention, and predict this can also be mimicked in adulthood.

6 Factors of “Specialized Learning”

1. Close-mindedness

Wu and her colleagues define close-mindedness as sticking to your usual, familiar routine and staying within a comfort zone.

2. No guidance

This means having no access to connect with experts or teachers.

3. Unforgiving environment

Mistakes and failure are not tolerable and may lead to serious consequences, such as getting fired from a job.

4. Fixed talent

The belief that abilities are natural talent, rather than developed with effort.

5. Uncommitted

The researchers note that many adults want to learn a new hobby, and may even give it a try for a short period of time, but then stop due to time constraints and/or difficulty.

6. Single-tasking

Learning one (if any) skill at the same time.

Wu says its natural for adults to shift from “broad learning” to “specialized” learning once their careers begin. But, if they continue with broad learning, they may be able to fight aging by expanding their cognitive function.

“We still need to test our theory with specific scientific studies, but this theory is based on over five decades of research. What I want adults to take away from this study is that we CAN learn many new skills at any age,” said Wu. “It just takes time and dedication. We seem to make it very difficult on ourselves and other adults to learn. Perhaps this is why some aspects of cognitive aging are self-imposed.”

See also: Learning A New Language Can Change How You Think: Sign Language May Improve Visual Skills, Even If You’re Not Deaf

Understanding Why The Brain Struggles With Learning New Skills May Help To Develop More Efficient Rehabilitation Programs