Up until recently, we believed our brain plasticity was stagnant and fixed. Dr. Norman Doige, a psychiatrist from the University of Toronto, helped to reveal that this isn’t the case. Neuroplasticity is something fluid that you can build up, and that means… you can create new neural pathways for the rest of your life. 5 Secrets to Building Up Your Neuroplasticity
Why is this important?
Like any other muscle in your body, when it comes to your brain, you either use it or lose it. To keep your cognition strong and to help set yourself up for successful aging, it’s important to create growth experiences for yourself that build up your neuroplasticity.
That’s why I’ve gathered these five secrets to help you build up your neuroplasticity:
1. Set meaningful goals
Too often I meet seniors who’ve lived a life of duty, where they dedicated their lives to the hustle bustle of work, family and responsibilities. This is a completely honorable commitment.
The main fallback is… your dream list of meaningful goals oftentimes gets trapped in a hope chest and by the time retirement hits, maybe you’ve not only lost sight of your dream list but you’ve also lost interest in creating meaningful challenges for yourself.
One of the ways to increase your neuroplasticity is to create new and exciting challenges for yourself, and the way to create new and exciting challenges for yourself is to set meaningful goals.
What’s the best way to set meaningful goals?
Find clarity through some serious self-reflection. This can really help you uncover some of the passions that you have deep inside you, which ultimately can help create some of your most vibrant new neural pathways in your brain.
2. Adopt a growth mindset
Once you have your meaningful goals, a powerful way to chase them and to keep your brain activated is to adopt a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is based on Dr. Carol Dweck’s idea that you can “grow your brain’s capacity to learn and solve problems.” It’s a perspective that believes you’re not born either smart or not-so-smart, but instead you’re born with the ability to learn.
The hard part?
It takes work. A critical ingredient of adopting a growth mindset is to embrace challenge. When we’re faced with any pitfalls and “fails” in life, especially when we’re willing to try something new and exciting, it’s easy to give up and run away from any challenges or roadblocks.
If you can learn the skill of learning and train yourself to look forward to those hard and challenging moments, you’ll be that much more likely to accomplish any of your personal goals.
Some more tips on developing a growth mindset:
- Focus on the process and not the outcome– if you can get in the habit of enjoying the journey, you’ll be less focused on the destination, which in turn will allow your brain to better engage in the act of learning
- Seek constructive criticism and not opinions– it’s a tough thing to let go of approval from others, but if you can instead learn to seek constructive feedback from other people, you’ll likely be more drawn to the learning process
- Create a new goal for every goal that you complete– this’ll keep you in the mindset of lifelong learning and can help you continue to engage your brain over and over again in the long-term
3. Tackle your goals using micro-steps
A powerful way to accomplish any goal is to break it down into smaller chunks I like to call micro-steps. This does four promising things for you:
- It keeps you less overwhelmed by the big picture goal
- It makes your goal more achievable and realistic
- You’ll know exactly what to tackle next
- It builds up your momentum and nurtures a habit of working consistently toward your goal
The most important takeaway from using micro-steps is that you want to get in the habit of being consistent in tackling each one. In order to make lasting changes in your brain pattern, you need to be diligent about giving yourself a learning process. Continue to challenge yourself on a regular basis. If setting and achieving new meaningful goals can become habitual, that’s when the neuroplasticity magic can happen for you.
4. Be self-aware and mindful
According to Roberts Wesleyan College, you make nearly 35,000 decisions a day, which means a ton of those decisions are made while your brain is on autopilot. If you can learn to engage the decision-making part of your brain, your prefrontal cortex, you can increase your neuroplasticity.
A way to do this is to practice mindfulness so that you’re more self-aware and more likely to make value-based(vs autopilot) decisions throughout the day.
Researchers Bas Verplanken and Rob Holland found that people make value-based choices only when those values are cognitively activated.
Some ideas on how to practice mindfulness:
- Meditate, practice yoga or do breathing exercises
- Connect with nature and be more aware of your physical surroundings
- Keep a journal and write about things you’re grateful for
- Exercise regularly
- Spend less time on digital devices and social media
- Watch less TV
5. Align your social circle with growth experiences
Your circle of influence is everything when it comes to how your daily habits are impacted. You become who you most spend time with so be sure to align your social circle with your personal goals and good habits.
There are stats that highlight the power of association, like these:
- If your friend is obese, you’re 57% more likely to gain weight
- If your friend gets a divorce, your chance for divorce goes up by 75%
By surrounding yourself with like-minded people who care about the same meaningful things that you do, you’re much more likely to continue to conquer your goals and expand your growth experiences. This is what’ll keep your neuroplasticity built-up and strong.
Tip: Spend less time with people in your area of concern, which is the area that highlights negativity, gossip, the news, the stock market, drama, regrets, fear, etc.
So there you have it – five practical tactics that’ll help you build up your brain health and neuroplasticity.
Which secret will you tackle first? How will you continue to create new and meaningful growth experiences for yourself?
Founder of Second Wind Movement, Cyn Meyer offers education + coaching to help seniors transition into amazing next chapters and age successfully in place. By helping seniors live out active, healthy, happy “retirement” years, they can better fend off depression, loneliness, Alzheimer’s and nursing home occupancy.
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