Would you be willing to try an experiment that can change your brain and improve your learning? What if I told you that it wouldn’t take any extra time, effort, or expense?
The experiment is very simple: do something you do on an everyday basis, but switch it up a little.
If you’re right-handed, brush your teeth with your left hand. ✋
What you are doing in this experiment is challenging your brain to adapt to new circumstances, stimulating its neuroplasticity. This term refers to the brain’s fantastic ability to change, regenerate, and create new pathways, resulting in numerous benefits: better learning, improved cognitive abilities, recovery from traumatic injuries to the brain, and so on.
The ability of the brain to adapt and develop has significant implications for anyone seeking to improve their leadership or career development opportunities. Increased neuroplasticity can sharpen a leader's willingness to think outside of the box, for example, or see conflicts from multiple perspectives. It can also increase the effects of learning and development by improving the brain's receptivity to new ideas, concepts, and ways of working.
How to increase your neuroplasticity
Of course, neuroplasticity isn't limited to tooth-brushing. You can stimulate your neuroplasticity through any number of everyday activities. Here are just a few examples:
- Take a different route to work.
- Walk your dog in a neighborhood you don’t normally visit.
- Go for a run without headphones.
And so on. Just pick an activity you do daily and automatically, without much thought, and then do it differently than you normally would.
Change your thoughts, change your life
With brain plasticity in mind, it becomes clear that we can quite literally change our lives by changing our thoughts. For example, when we do something that makes us happy, our prefrontal cortex gets a spike in activity. If we keep doing activities that cause us to feel happy, the neural pathways in our prefrontal cortex (involved in the feeling of happiness) get stronger, which means that it becomes easier for us to feel happy, and the cycle goes on.
To put it simply, whatever we focus on becomes our reality. If we focus on being happy, we physiologically become more optimistic, fulfilled, and joyful. If we focus on stressful things in our lives, we have more chance of becoming depressed and anxious.
How to improve your brain, one thought at a time
Unfortunately, we humans are highly resistant to change and adopting new practices if they oppose what we already know. In this, we’re far worse than monkeys - a recent study compared monkeys to people, giving them a sequence of steps to complete in order to gain an award. Then, both groups were presented with an alternative that was much more efficient. 70% of the monkeys adopted the new, more strategy straight away. However, only 1.7% of humans did so.
This means that we must make a conscious effort if we wish to change our thoughts, whether they are unproductive, distracting, or even toxic to our well-being.
Simple strategies that can rewire your synapses
There are a number of simple strategies you can use to start increasing your neuroplasticity.
You could enrich your environment both physically (decorating your living space with some new art) or through habits (learning a new language, reading a genre of books that normally doesn’t interest you, or learning to play an instrument).
Incorporating physical activity into your day, even if it’s just a 15-minute walk in the mornings, can bring numerous benefits to your brain, including your memory. The biggest effect on the brain comes from 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training or 25 minutes of continuous moderate aerobic exercise.
Practicing gratitude and meditating for a few minutes a day can also be extremely beneficial, leading to structural changes in the brain. There are many neuro-linguistic rewiring techniques, such as practicing positive affirmations (they can help you perform better in the workplace and have more confidence even in high-pressure situations) or content reframing that can help with handling anxiety (this study showed how efficient this technique is in preserving mental health).
Whichever technique you choose, make sure to turn it into a habit. The more you practice and the more you expose your brain to thoughts of happiness, prosperity and progress, the more of the same will you start seeing in your everyday life.
If you'd like to learn more about how the techniques mentioned in this article can help you, get in touch - I will be happy to help.
Jessica Godshall is a solutions-oriented professional with a proven track record of leadership success in launching a startup business, serving on leadership committees, promoting engagement, and advancing philanthropic campaigns.Continue reading