“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
This quote eloquently captures the fact that we must employ discipline and dedication if we want to create resourceful new pathways in our minds. And when we do so, we have an amazing capacity to alter the direction of our thought patterns, their resulting behaviours and, ultimately, the course of our lives.
Not just the musings of a 19th century poet and philosopher, the notion of our ability to influence the structure and function of our mind is now firmly backed up by science. Astoundingly, in the last 10 years, science has uncovered more about how the human brain works than in the whole of brain research prior to that.
The emerging field of neuroplasticity has conclusively shown that our brain can change its own structure and function. It can grow new cells, circuits and connections in response to what we do, what we think and how we behave. It’s now clear that we are not simply passive victims of our genes but play an active role in how our brain operates and develops throughout our entire life.
As remarkable as it is, it’s news that may land with alarm or delight, depending on your take on personal responsibility. If you want to keep your brain in shape and avoid cognitive decline, you can’t just kick back and do what you always do. Your brain needs novelty. You’ve got to tax it by learning new things. New challenges are what keeps the brain firing.
So, what should you do to boost your brain? Dr Helena Popovic, a medical doctor and specialist in how to improve brain function, recommends the following:
1. IF IT’S GOOD FOR THE HEART, IT’S EVEN BETTER FOR THE BRAIN. That means: Get moving – just 20 minutes of exercise a day cuts your lifetime risk of dementia by half and reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by over 60%. Bump it to 30 minutes and you’ll also reduce your risk of a stroke by 57% Get laughing – stay playful, watch some funny vids on YouTube, give yourself permission to laugh 24/7
Get sober – there’s a direct linear relationship between alcohol consumption & brain shrinkage: the more you drink, the more you shrink. Make moderation your mantra
2. USE IT OR LOSE IT: Get curious – ask questions, read, watch, listen, experiment Get learning – any new skill or hobby that takes your interest, a craft, an art, a foreign language, a musical instrument, a sport Get stimulated – climb a mountain, explore a place you’ve never been before Get challenged – start using your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth Get out of your comfort zone – talk to people you don’t usually speak to Get out of a rut – change your routine, go to work via a different route
3. TURN ON YOUR NBOM (Nucleus Basalis of Meynert, a basal forebrain structure involved in cognitive functions including memory, attention, arousal and perception): Get focused – multi-tasking is a myth: do one thing at a time Get concentrating – put your full attention on the task at hand Get interested – seek out novelty Get excited – book a holiday, go see live music or sport, dive into something new
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