It was long believed that the structure of the brain changes throughout early childhood and then is relatively static for the rest of our lives. New research, however, is debunking that theory. This is exciting because it means that we can actually change our brains and become better thinkers.
The theory is known as neuroplascity. While the hype you hear about your brain being a “muscle” is a little misleading (it’s an organ, after all), many of the same principles can apply. That is to say, through practice and conscious effort, you can increase the function, structure, and performance of your brain.
1. Do something you haven’t done before
With each new experience we have, we increase the communication among our neurons. Seeing a new place, taking on a new challenge, meeting new people, and learning new things are ways that our brain actually grows. Think of your brain as a web of neurons communicating with one another. With each novel experience we have, that network of communicating neurons grows and gets stronger.
2. Strengthen your memory
It’s frustrating to be forgetful. However, a “bad memory” is nothing more than a memory that needs some training. When you learned to ride a bike, you didn’t get on once, fall and decide that you were a “bad bike rider.” You figured it out, practiced, and improved. Sure, that’s a simplistic view of it, but your memory works in relatively the same way. If you’re not exercising your memory, it’s probably not going to be so great. Start with something like memorizing numbers you use often. Your checking account number, passport number, or driver’s license numbers might be good places to start. Once you start consciously trying to remember, you’ll automatically be better at it. Memorize with intent and test yourself regularly
3. Eat, sleep, & move
Optimizing your brain means that you are giving it the proper fuel to work its best. This may seem obvious, but the amount of time you sleep, the types of physical exercise you choose, and the foods with which you nourish your body can not only have great impact on your physical body, but on your mind; perhaps even more so. When you exercise, you will literally generate new brain cells. When you consider the food you eat, you probably think of your resulting physique. However, when you take into account that our brain functions on about 20% of the nutrients we eat, it becomes even more crucial to eat the right types of foods – particularly fruits, vegetables, and foods containing omega-3 oils, found mostly in fish. Sleep completes this healthy brain trifecta. Aiming for a bedtime between 9:00 P.M. and midnight and sleeping for a minimum of six hours offers our brains and bodies the opportunity to rest and regenerate our cells for healthiest functioning.
4. Eliminate stress
If only we could actually do this, life would be easy. Stress has long been called the “silent killer.” It’s not something tangible, but it’s there. It can lead to all sorts of physical consequences like heart attacks and stroke. However, a lesser discussed result of persistent stress is the destruction of existing neurons and the stifling of the production of new ones. While eliminating all sources of stress is nearly impossible, it is essential to react to stressors in a way that doesn’t physically tax mind and body. The simple act of replacing a negative thought with a positive one is enough to tell our brains to keep producing neurons and functioning at an optimum level.
5. Take a break from technology
The last time you had to solve a math problem that you couldn’t quickly compute, what did you do? Did you spend time thinking about it? The last time you had to drive to a new place, did you pull out a map and assess your route or did you plug the address into your GPS? Consider the reasons you reach for technology. It’s certainly helpful. However, the next time there is something that you can use your brain to solve, try it out. You can always check your math with the calculator on your smartphone!