Teaching old dogs new tricks
How did we evolve to be in charge of this planet? By having the largest brain relative to body size of all mammals, that’s how.
The brain is an important organ. Though it takes up only 2% of our body mass, all that thinking, learning and interpreting consumes 20% of our energy. How we experience the world depends on what is going on inside of our brain.
And what is really interesting is, no matter what age we are, we can change the make-up of our brains depending on what we are engaged in – a process known as neuroplasticity. This is good news if we are striving to continually learn and improve. We do, however, need to exercise our brains in order to build this muscle.
“Neurons that fire together; wire together ” Hebb’s law on neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity means that through repeated activity or experiences, we can strengthen neural connections in our brains. Should we stop doing these activities, those connections weaken. This ability to ‘wire’ our own brains can work for or against us; depending on the nature of our behaviour and thoughts.
Still keeping an eye out for tigers
Our minds have not evolved as quickly as our environment. We still have a predisposition to play more attention to threatening or negative thoughts as these would have alerted us to danger in the past. Coupled with this, the average person has between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day. Thoughts which can be up to 80% the same as the day before. Furthermore, we can have 120-150 undone tasks competing for attention in our minds at any one time.
The result being that it’s very easy to get stuck in a circle of similar negative thoughts repeating themselves, making us anxious and distracting us from getting things done.
That is why it is so important to spend time and energy cultivating more positive thought patterns and habits. Looking after your mind, matters.
A constantly wandering mind is a restless one.
Getting better at putting our attention where we want, when we want is not only useful in terms of getting things done, it helps protect our brains from stress and negativity.
Care and feeding of the Brain
- Stop. Observe and notice when your mind in racing. Try being more mindful
- Slow down. Try and focus on one thought at a time. Avoid multi-tasking (it lower’s our IQ)
- Use your mind to get stuff out of your mind. Write things down. It will make you more productive
- Try meditation; even for 5 minutes a day; it’s like building up your focus muscles
- Allow your brain to be at it’s best through good sleep patterns and regular exercise
- Feed your brain with the right foods (the brain consumes 20% of our calories). Cut down on dairy, red meat and sugars. Eat more healthy fats.
Repeat. Small changes can have big impacts. Regular and repeated action will strengthen the neural connections in our brains and make them more likely to stick. As David Eagleman, the eminent neuroscientist said, we become the relationship between our neurons.
We are what we think but also what we do, regularly.
- The Brain, the story of you – David Eagleman
- Your Brain at Work – David Rock
- Mindsight: the New Science of Personal Transformation – Dan Siegal MD
- Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence – Daniel Goleman
- Change your life in 30 Days (creating habits)
- Happy Brain: How to Overcome Our Neural Predispositions to Suffering | Amit Sood, MD | TEDxUNI
- Power Foods for the Brain | Neal Barnard | TEDxBismarck