Hacking your brain – what you don’t know can hurt you
Just as nourishing foods promote our physical wellbeing, we need to nourish our brains to be of sound mind and well primed for learning and growth. It’s true that even the healthiest of brains still experience times of anxiety or fatigue, or feelings of disappointment and depression. What’s important is that we develop and sustain positive habits of fuelling and exercising our brains and minimising those negative conditions that diminish our cognitive and creative abilities.
It’s critical to acknowledge how modern-day distractions reduce our cognitive control. Most of us always have a device at hand and because of this have nearly eradicated boredom, which is widely recognised as an incubator for innovation. Why do you think most inventions are thought up in the shower?! When we are bored, we are alone with our thoughts. If we turn off the phone, close the iPad or laptop, and simply stop looking outside of ourselves, we increase our chances of becoming more curious. When we’re not overloading on information, we may roll an idea or two around in our minds – wondering, testing, exploring, and challenging it.
By removing our ability to daydream or to follow our core thought processes and allowing ourselves to be constantly pulled into checking screen notifications or scrolling through some app or other, we are actually reducing our capacity to innovate, learn, and create.
It is critical to remind yourself that the very companies offering us such apps are caught in their own profit-driven paradigm and are designing their apps in ways that pursue their economic interest and work directly against brain health.
Their single goal is to win more of your attention, which results in more time on their app and greater potential revenue. This effectively persuades you to reduce the time you spend alone with your thoughts in that most fertile ground called boredom.
Six hacks to help your brain (for you, your teams and family members):
˖Check and monitor your screen time using the appropriate app on your device
˖Set a goal for downtime, create spaces for boredom to let your mind wander
˖Eat meals together, device free. Stimulate conversations with “Why questions”
˖Keep a notebook handy, and write down ALL your ideas (not just the ones you deem to be your best). Review these monthly so ideas can percolate and iterate
˖Monitor your sleep and vital stats (I use the Whoop bracelet; my friends the Aura ring)
˖Try to learn something new every day – pick up a new hobby or learn a language
One way to think about how new knowledge contributes to brain health is to use the analogy of going hiking. If you continue to retread the same path when hiking, with time that path will become more worn, clearer, and easier to follow.
However, it’s also the case that over time, if you’re only ever taking this same path, alternate routes will become more difficult to take or disappear entirely. The same is true for your neural pathways in your brain. As path options are reduced, so are our capacities for resiliency, versatility, stress management, stimulating long term growth and fighting cognitive decline.
But by thinking in new ways and making a habit of learning new things, your path options increase, new synaptic connections form; enhancing, extending, and weaving together our neural pathways in ways that reinforce and facilitate further learning along with more malleability and flexibility. This is called Neuroplasticity, and its practice can be used to recover from neurological disorders and brain injury, as well as develop skills, learn new habits, develop new ways of thinking and even reduce the effects of ageing.
Don’t let your age become an irrational excuse to let yourself decline.
I have ageing parents who want to stay “behind the wheel” and maintain their personal freedom. I want to help them enjoy life more richly and for much longer. Whether this is for you or your parents, know with certainty that learning is not limited by age, nor does age signal a time for brain decline to automatically commence.
Our capacity for learning can be continuously improved upon thanks to our ability to generate new neurons and keep making new neural connections. Without this we become unable, literally, to take in and process new information. Often people resign themselves to this state by saying something like “I’m just getting old and forgetful” or “My brain doesn’t work the way it used to” when in fact these are more often than not self-imposed limits that are fully reversible with retraining.
Dr. Majid Fotuhi (MD, PhD of Johns Hopkins), the noted neuroscientist and global leader in the fight against Alzheimer’s, advised: “Diet, exercise, and sleep will do more to combat cognitive decline than any of the major drug companies.
“Insomnia, sleep apnea, stress, high blood pressure – all these conditions that bridge psychological state and physical condition can lead to changes in the brain that will result in cognitive impairment.”
The crucial point is that a healthy physical and mental lifestyle combined with ongoing learning feeds our brains in ways that generate neurons and expand the web that connects them. Incredibly this has not just minimised the effects of cognitive decline but in many cases has been proven to reverse it.
Not often will an article literally change your life, or change the life of someone you care for. I invite you to take these to heart, to put them into action and to live a life only you are able to make for yourself. If you need a simple hand, a guide on your hike or a coach in your team’s corner, please do not hesitate to reach out to the team at Bermuda Clarity Institute for help.