“The brain is wider than the sky.” – Emily Dickinson
The human brain is truly phenomenal. Think about it, our entire life history and every piece of knowledge we have ever acquired is stored in the 3 pound gelatinous mass in our head. It allows us to discover and create new things, be spiritually connected and love other, and fortunately because of neuroscience we’re learning more and more everyday about how to use the brains full potential. One amazing process that offers us insights into optimal brain functioning is neurogenesis. This is the process by which new neurons are generated. We now know that new neurons are continually born throughout adulthood, and that many activities can enhance this process. Another powerful function of the brain is neuroplasticity. The brain wires when we experience new activities or learn new things, and our brains are constantly changing, rewiring, and making these connections every day. Simply put, the brain is plastic and can be strengthened throughout life. So, as this brain remodeling take place, we have two choices. We can let them just happen, or we can awaken “our faculties,” direct the changes, and turn neuroplasticity into self-directed neuroplasticity, which is a phrase coined by Jeffrey Schwartz. When our brains are engaging in neuroplasticity without our knowledge, direction, or awareness, our brains are changing accidentally. When we are employing self-directed neuroplasticity, we can be purposeful and intentional about maximum brain performance. Here are a few tips for the highly effective brain.
The Brain can only function at its best when it has enough energy and nutrition to process information. You may have noticed how your concentration level, mood, and processing speed change depending on what you have consumed. Here are a few suggestions for a healthy diet to boost brain functioning.
- One of the healthiest foods we can eat is wild salmon. This qualifies for brain health but also across every other health standard as well.
- Cacao bean, minimally processed (not chocolate) usually in powder form
- Acai Berries and/or Blueberries
- Regular coffee consumption has been shown to actually reduce the risk of mental decline
Focus – Don’t multitask
As much as we wish it was so, our brain cannot truly multitask. Recent neuroscience research proves multitasking is a myth that can greatly hinder performance. The human brain is unable to consciously pay full attention to two tasks at the same time. We can do simple tasks like walking and talking at the same time, but when it comes to true multitasking (consciously using your prefrontal cortex), your brain just can’t do it. Instead of multitasking try these suggestions.
- Organize and prioritize your tasks in advance
- Become familiar with your natural rhythms and know what time of the day you have the most energy, mental and physical, and schedule tasks accordingly.
- If possible, vary the sort of tasks you work on throughout the day – your brain functions better when it has variety.
- Schedule times during the day when you will check your e-mail and voicemail – and be strict about only checking it during those designated times.
- Create interruption-free time zones during the day to work on selected tasks – Turn of your e-mail notification, phone ringer, IM program, etc. – distractions that can waste your time.
Be Physically Active
You need physical activity, not necessarily rigorous workouts, for a healthy brain. Even moderate exercise appears to promote neurogensis. This is because as you do any form of cardiovascular exercise you’re increasing blood flow to every part of your body, including your brain.
Cognitive function is strongly connected to brain-stimulating socialization. Staying socially active throughout life can help to maintain normal brain function and put off the onset of dementia. Engaging in activities with friends and family, especially those that require both physical and mental activity, can help to improve brain function and memory for years to come.
Get enough sleep
How do you feel when you are sleep deprived? Does thinking clearly become more difficult? A sleep-deprived brain works harder, but accomplishes less. It becomes more difficult to concentrate, speak clearly, and make decisions. Sleep deprived people do not have the speed or creative abilities to cope with making quick but logical decisions, nor do they have the ability to implement them well. Sleep problems are almost always involved in mental disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and even strokes. And the severity of symptoms are strongly influenced by the amount of sleep a person gets, or doesn’t get.
Challenge yourself mentally and continue learning
This relates to the concept of “use it or lose it.” Just as our brain wires and develops based on our experiences, these connections can become weaker if we fail to engage and take part in activities. What were you really adept at when you were a young child that you can no longer do? This might be an example of weakening neural connections. So, it’s important to keep your brain active by teaching yourself something new, learning a new language, or taking a college course. While many adults are too busy to fit visits to the university campus into their busy schedules, this does not make it impossible to continue your education. Online universities provide a flexible learning environment that allows you to take courses in your free time and to learn something new every day. These online universities have access to a renowned faculty, well-known lecturers, and knowledgeable guest speakers, in addition to following the same curriculum as an on-campus facility. Online courses also provide students with the chance to interact with fellow students, making it very similar to the experience one would have on the school campus. To challenge your brain, do things differently and mix-up your routine. Activate your whole brain by using as many senses as possible, and pay attention to your environment.
Have a positive attitude
Attitude may be one of the most important habits to cultivate. It changes everything, including your brain. Relax and enjoy life, laugh often, don’t focus on perceived threats, but instead develop an optimistic outlook. Stress is the main reason brains under-perform, so learning to manage stress and worry frees up your mental energy for more useful matters. Practice mindfulness and other methods of mental relaxation. The next time you find yourself feeling lethargic, being forgetful, and simply not able to concentrate or focus on what you’re trying to accomplish, consider the above ideas. Be intentional about using your mental faculties and remember that your brain will always be responding and developing based on the experiences you have. Photo credit: B Rosen