There are days where we all wish we could function better, be more motivated, more productive, happier, more social. We would all love to get up for that morning run, eat healthier and relax more. However, when it comes to actually changing these habits and starting off a new routine, it can be incredibly difficult to make the changes happen, and even harder sometimes to get them to stick.
This is all due to a wonderful (or not so wonderful sometimes!) little thing called neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change throughout our lives. It does this by forming new neural connections in response to new situations or changes in our environment. These can be as drastic as someone improving from a severe injury or illness (such as unexpected recovery from a stroke) or as simple as implementing a change in routine, memory improvement or more effective learning.
We have two different types of neuroplasticity,
- Structural, which involves the strength of the neural connections in the brain, and,
- Functional, which involves the changes in the brain as a result of learning and development.
Neuroplasticity is incredibly important, and not just because it’s how we learn. It can assist us to manage difficult conditions including, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and trauma. In this way, psychological counselling can support someone to rewire and / or remodelling their brain. The difficult thing about changing the way our brain works, is that it’s hard!! We need focused attention, concentration and this needs to be repeated for there to be any change.
How can I help my brain?
To effectively improve our ability to increase our Neuroplasticity, we need to create a healthy environment for our brain. The healthier our environment is, the more we are challenging our brain to learn and the more consistency we have in doing this, the easier we will find changing our habits. Here are some brain friendly habits:
Give your brain some food!
We wouldn’t expect a car to run without fuel, however so many of us don’t feed and nourish our brain, and then expect it to function optimally! The brain needs fuel to create, maintain and protect our brain cells. It is important to make sure we are eating brain friendly food, some examples being fatty fish (or foods high in omega oils), blue berries, broccoli, turmeric and pumpkin seeds).
With so many on hand distractions (social media, emails, streaming services to name a few!), our brains are given a reduced chance to imagine, to be creative and to learn. Because so many of these distractions feed our brain information with little effort on it’s part, it’s ability to develop it’s own ways of developing and rewiring can be hindered. Giving your brain some time to be bored can assist in developing imagination, thereby facilitating creativity. Instead of picking up your phone, head our for a quick two minute walk around, doodle with a pen and paper or do some journalling.
- Get some exercisePhysical exercise can work to directly increase neuroplasticity as exercise raises the levels of chemicals which promote new cell formation and and neural connections. Simply walking can provide the release of these chemicals, however it you really want to ramp it up, do a yoga class or something like tai chi as these exercises have a strong mind-body connection, which can assist in developing the mind.
- Do something new and different
Travelling, going somewhere new or learning a new skill exposes our brain to something new and different, which opens up new pathways in our brain. Consistently doing new things will also improve our brain’s ability to be able to learn.
Learn a musical instrument, or language, dance or take an art class
Studies have shown there are a number of benefits of structured and creative learning including physical changes in the brain, such as a greater volume of grey matter and a larger corpus Callossum – this means our brain holds more information and has stronger connections between the different parts of our brains.
You may have seen the many apps these days on smart phones, computers and consoles which promote that by playing the games on a daily basis assists in developing and healthy functioning of the brain. Unfortunately, there is very little data that supports this at the present time, with a lot of the companies behind these apps having no clinical trials or evidence to support their claims. That’s not to say that the games won’t be beneficial, however there is just no guarantee that they will work.
So How Do I Rewire My Brain?
The big takeaway from all of this is to make sure you are building up the wellbeing and health of your brain and then taking baby steps to implement changes. Don’t expect too much of yourself, remember that changing a habit takes time, as this is actually changing the way your brain works. The positive news is it’s completely possible with some persistence and determination.
Do you have a habit you would like to change?