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The elasticity of your brain is its ability to “reboot” and remove patterns, habits, biases, and limits that no longer serve you. The trick to this is knowing how to press the reset button. Here’s how.
Throughout your life, your brain is being shaped by experience. This process is called neuroplasticity and every repetition of a thought or emotion can reinforce a neural pathway that hardwires the way you form your beliefs, shape your likes and dislikes, create limits that you place on yourself, and reinforce the conscious and unconscious biases you have.
For example, don’t like cilantro? Many who don’t believe it has to do with their taste buds and outside their realm of control. Have an addictive personality? Many believe this is predetermined by your genetics. The fabulous thing about the fantastic elasticity of your brain is its ability to “reboot” and remove patterns, bad habits, biases, and limits that no longer serve you. The trick to this is knowing how to press the reset button and get a fresh start.
How to Reboot Your Brain
The first step to rebooting is recognizing that something about the way your brain processes isn’t supporting you to live your life the way you want to. Maybe your perfectionism is bordering on obsession or perhaps an opinion you have had since childhood has been disproven by something you have heard or read or witnessed. These first whispers that lead you to think differently are powerful, and like an itch that must be scratched, once you start to wonder, you become primed to take action to press the reset button.
Like most things, the brain involves both nature and nurture. Some things are genetic, some are environmental. As Simon Gregory, an associate professor of medical genetics and codirector of the Duke Epigenetics and Epigenomics Program, explains, not everything about how your genes operate is programmed at birth. In fact, the environment can impact and change your genes. If you think of your genetics as the computer’s hardware, and your physical, mental, and emotional environments as software that impact its performance, suddenly changing patterns seems much simpler. Here are a few simple yet effective ways to push the reboot button.
I would argue that sleep is by far the most powerful reset you have for your brain. Research being done at the University of Wisconsin suggests that your synapses—the places where nerves connect—grow larger and stronger when they receive stimulation during your wakeful periods and then shrink by up to 20 percent overnight, creating room for more growth and learning at night. The consequence of not getting enough sleep is a reduction in that overnight shrink, which impacts the ability to grow again the next day.
In her bestselling book, The Sleep Revolution, sleep expert Ariana Huffington suggests the following tips and ideas to ensure a good night’s sleep:
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool (between 60 and 67 degrees).
- No electronic devices starting 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Keep cell phones out of the bedroom.
- Don’t eat or drink anything containing caffeine after 2 p.m.
- No working in bed—keep your bed for sleep (and sex) only.
- No pets on the bed.
- Relax with a hot bath with Epsom salts before bed to help calm your mind and body.
- Pajamas send a sleep-friendly message to your body.
- Do some light stretching, deep breathing, yoga, or meditation to help your body and your mind transition to restful sleep.
- When reading in bed, make it a real book or an e-reader that does not emit blue light.
- Ease yourself into sleep mode by drinking some chamomile or lavender tea.
- Before bed, write a list of what you are grateful for. It’s a great way to make sure your blessings get the closing scene of the night.
One recent study done at the University of Adelaide in Australia is showing that one 30-minute session of an intense exercise routine can improve memory and ability to learn, making the brain more “elastic.”
A second piece of research that helps support the case for exercise comes from author Gretchen Reynolds whose book, The First 20 Minutes, extolls the benefits of 20 daily focused minutes for boosting happiness and productivity. The best part of Gretchen’s research was that the exercise did not need to be intense.
I am a huge fan of former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign, especially where it made exercise available to everyone. You don’t need to run a marathon, start simply by doing the following:
- Having a kitchen dance party
- Walking the dog
- Taking a yoga class
- Going for a hike
- Playing Golf
- Playing table tennis
- Playing tag with your kids
- Doing a 20-minute weight circuit
- Trying Power 20 (a free 20-minute workout app)
Remember, the more exercise feels fun, the more likely you are to keep it up!
There is more positive evidence that supports what meditators have always known, meditation is good for you! Among the recent discoveries, Michael Posner from University of Oregon explains, “There is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation might cause neuroplastic changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in regulation of attention, emotion, and self-awareness.”
As neuroscientist and author Sara McKay points out, benefits of meditation include the following:
- More focused attention
- Positive shifts in mood
- Enhanced self-awareness
- Improved health and well-being
Music primes the brain for learning and concentrating, yet if you listen to what most parents tell their children, they are saying when you want to focus you need silence—TV off, music off, and computer off.
However, many people focus more easily with music that they like playing in the background while they work. Listening to music lowers brainwave frequency leading to conditions ripe for learning, analyzing, and performing at your best. This peak performance happens in the zone, which is a state of mind that occurs when there is a decrease in electrical activity and leads to increased levels of so-called feel-good chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine. Neuroscientists from UCLA have curated a selection of songs designed to increase focus by almost 15 percent.
According to nutrition health coach Dr. Mindy Pelz, your brain is a mirror of your gut. “If depression, anxiety, or brain fog is hanging around no matter what you do, it’s time to figure out what’s going on with your gut. Your gut produces neurotransmitters that keep your brain happy and functioning well. Fix your gut and your brain will change.”
How do you prime your gut for optimal brain function? Holistic health coach Valerie Sjoberg recommends the 4R program:
- Remove stress, allergens, and pathogens.
- Replace what’s lacking by taking digestive enzymes.
- Reinoculate with probiotics, prebiotics, and fermented food.
- Repair your gut lining through good nutrition.
Spend Time in Nature
Science is uncovering evidence that time outside impacts brains by decreasing stress and rumination and increasing creativity, connection, and positive emotions. Walking your dog, taking a hike, surfing, gardening, or laying beachside can positively rewire your brain.
Prioritize Positive Emotions
Your thoughts are connected to your reality. Emotions can be divided into ones that feel good and ones that don’t. The goal isn’t to avoid unpleasant emotions—not only is that unrealistic, it’s also unhealthy. As Dr. Georgina Cameron and her research team at the Institute of Positive Education point out, good mental health includes a full range of emotions with the experience of positive outweighing the negative. The most commonly researched and experienced positive emotions are the following:
If you spend a moment looking over this list you will probably discover that there is a positive emotion appropriate to most experiences in life. Try the practice of reframing your thoughts about emotions as a great brain reset. For example, when you are feeling frazzled in a traffic jam, instead of naming your feeling frustration try on hope—hope that you are through the worst. When you are arguing politics, think about being interested in the point of view being shared with you. Building these positive emotions doesn’t mean you eliminate negative ones. You empower yourself to move through them more quickly, allowing their impact to be effective rather than depleting.
We all know that when something doesn’t work, a reset or reboot often fixes everything. Try rebooting your brain. Choose one of the above activities. Be present while you complete the activity. Then see if you feel as though your reset has allowed space for an upgrade!