Strengthening your brain
Nerd, lifelong learner, learnaholic, scholar. I could use all of these words to describe my love of learning, a trait that is deeply ingrained within me. As a child I loved reading and I loved going to school. Before you bail on this article, I encourage you to understand that learning is far more than school. And is pivotal to vitality from infancy to old age.
School, which to many people has negative connotations is, in most Western cultures, a formal system of education which suits some people but alienates others.
Learning, on the other hand, is intrinsic to life. It’s about survival at its most fundamental and about growth and expansion at its best.
Some of the most ‘successful’ people in history failed miserably at school. Some people who get straight A’s at school struggle through life.
Norman Doidge, best-selling author, research psychiatrist and forerunner in the “neuroplasticity” field writes “the idea that the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity is, I believe, the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy”.
It helps to understand that our brain, just like our muscles, responds to use. The more we use it, the stronger it becomes.
This is mostly good however it can be a negative if what we are strengthening in our brain are pathways of worry, anxiety, fear or negativity.
We have a choice about this. Years ago, I read that if you are having a negative thought, imagine a mini vacuum cleaner whizzing across your forehead, removing that thought.
Ideally, we use our brain in novel and various ways. We can be expert at Sudoku or crosswords however we will limit our brain development if that is all we do. Learning a new language and playing an instrument are excellent ways to foster brain growth. Physical exercise increases oxygen supply to the brain and helps connect the left and right sides of our brain, two fundamental aspects to brain health and well-being.
Simple daily activities like brushing your teeth using your opposite hand, taking a different route to work or the shops and experimenting with a new recipe all help.
Mindfulness practices have been scientifically proven to increase the part of our brain responsible for memory and decrease the part of our brain where anxiety thrives.
Curiosity will enhance our brain, while judgement will reduce it. This offers another tool for improving our thinking. When you are experiencing overwhelm, pause, breathe deep and come up with 10 questions. Or come into your senses, paying attention to what you can see, hear, smell, taste and feel as a way to calm your brain.
Our brains may be less than 10 percent of our body weight however it uses 40 percent of our energy to do it’s complex work. It is inflamed due to poor dietary choices it will struggle. The vibrantly coloured fruits and vegetables that support your overall health support your brain health also, while the foods that irritate your gut may well irritate your brain as the barrier between your gut and your blood stream is similar to that between your blood stream and your brain.
What will you do today to challenge your brain? Choose something that you’ve always wanted to try and give it a go. Your brain will love you for it.