Can I ask a personal question?
- What makes you happy?
- What is your idea of a perfect evening?
Okay that’s two questions but how you respond is important. For many of us, the answer would be something like relaxing on the sofa, watching a great TV show and eating something delicious. Maybe you want to stay in with your loved one, or maybe you’d just like to relax and listen to some music.
These things are comfortable and they are refreshing. These things help you to feel calm and to rejuvenate from a tough week.
But you know what? Your mind doesn’t like these things.
In fact, these are the worst things you can possibly do as far as your mind is concerned!
The reason for that is simple: when you relax and when you chill, you don’t challenge your mind. The result is that it starts to atrophy.
Grow or Shrink
The brain is able to adapt to whatever you throw at it due to a process called brain plasticity. Brain plasticity describes the ability of the brain to grow and change shape: to create new neurons and to become stronger. Herein lies the principle of SAID: specific adaptations to imposed demands. If you practice languages, you get better at language. If you practice balance, your brain gets better at that.
But if you’re not growing, then all that extra neural matter is just wasted energy. The result? Your brain starts to atrophy and starts to burn through that extra matter. The result is that you deteriorate mentally and you’re not as happy as you once were.
Grow or shrink. Move forward or move backwards. Being ‘passive’ isn’t an option.
Your Routine Lifestyle Is Killing Your Brain
Routines are the structure of life. They simplify it. They limit the brain-draining decision making. If you eat spaghetti every night for dinner, you don’t have to waste 30 minutes each day wondering what to have for dinner. It’s spaghetti just like it was yesterday. And the day before and the day before and the day before that.
Routine lets us perform complex tasks like driving a car, with little mental energy. It becomes instinctive. Routines are run by your subconscious. They need very little brain activity to complete. You could perform them in your sleep.
Your Brain Loves Growth
When you learn a new language or skill, the brain will see this as positive stimulus. It sees this as a chance to get stronger and to ultimately improve your ability to survive. Thus it produces positive hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine and brain derived neurotrophic factor. These help you to learn, but they also prevent the atrophy I mentioned. They protect the brain against degeneration and they make you smarter.
These help you to learn, but they also prevent the atrophy I mention. They protect the mind against degeneration and they make you smarter.
So while you might feel like the very best thing you can do for your brain is to relax and to sit down, actually the brain much prefers challenge and learning.
Sure, have your evening off, but make sure your life isn’t just a case of alternating between stress at work and doing ‘nothing’ at home.
Just vary the routine. The old adage “a change is as good as a rest” came about for a reason.
If you’re feeling meh it’s time to crack out the colouring books, the puzzle books or the language learning MP3s.
It’s time to use your mind for the reason it was created.