Have you ever wondered at the fact that we can’t seem to control our likes, dislikes or opinions—for example, whether we like broccoli or a certain type of music? Have you ever explained away a certain bias, or even a bad habit, by saying, “This is just how I am”?
If you have, you’re only partly right. A certain taste preference or bias may be how you are right now, but it’s not necessarily indelibly wired into your brain. The brain is a remarkable organ, the most complex in our body, with a stunning capacity for change. It has a fascinating trait called neuroplasticity, a term which means new neural pathways gets created in response to our experiences. The plasticity part actually means we can change those neural paths. All it takes is repetition for the new neural pathways to get reinforced. In other words, we have the ability to “reboot” our brains and make new neural pathways. Let’s explore some techniques to empower your brain to reset itself.
1. Develop Healthy Sleep Habits
Sleep is our body’s method of resetting and replenishing itself—including (and especially) the brain. Recent research shows that a healthy balance of awake/asleep time creates a tangible pattern of growing and shrinking synapses in the brain. These synapses grow during your waking experiences, and they shrink during sleep, creating the ability to learn more from the next day’s experiences. It is in this daily cycle of learning that the brain becomes more elastic. When we don’t get enough quality sleep—particularly rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep—our brain can’t reset itself as well.
How can you get more (and better) sleep at night? Try some of the following:
- Set up a steady routine, if possible, where you go to bed approximately the same time each night.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants from late afternoon onward.
- Turn off electronics 1 houe before bedtime (blue light from devices can hinder sleep.) If you read before bedtime, read an actual book or set your e-reader to emit yellow light, rather than blue.
- Take a bath with Epsom salts before bed.
- Relax with a cup of chamomile or lavender tea.
- Meditate or practice deep breathing before bed.
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
There’s a deeper connection between the brain and the gut than most people realized. Your brain and gut are connected by thousands of neurotransmitters that send messages back and forth—which is why even the thought of food can make your mouth water, and why good tasting food triggers releases dopamine. Changing what you eat can have a significant effect on brain function, including improving mood and warding off depression. Eat a diet rich in proteins and antioxidants, and watch your intake of sugars and carbs. To “jump start” an inflamed digestive tract, consider supplementing your diet with enzymes and probiotics. Some specific brain-healthy foods are listed here.
3. Meditation/Mindfulness Exercises
People who practice some form of meditation or mindfulness not only experience reduced stress and greater awareness, but ongoing research has shown that meditation practices help improve physical health, mental health and cognitive brain function. In effect, meditation is a way of training your brain, which improves the ability to form or change neural pathways.
4. Get Outside
Having evolved as a species on this planet, it should come as no surprise that our brains are conditioned to thrive in our natural environment. Numerous studies have confirmed this idea, demonstrating that time spent in nature improves our brain activity in numerous ways—by reducing stress, improving mood and increasing our creative energy, to name a few.
Can exercise make you smarter? A recent eye-opening study has indicated a clear connection between physical exertion and improved elasticity of the brain, including improved memory and motor skills. Even a low-impact exercise regimen can go a long way toward enabling you to reboot your brain.
Your brain is designed to form neural pathways based on experience, but those pathways aren’t set in stone. By engaging in the practices above, you can effectively reboot your brain and expand your own ability to grow, change and evolve.