We’ve talked about neuroplasticity a few times here before. In a nutshell, it’s the brain’s ability to make new connections and habituate new behaviors and ways of thinking. It’s the process that underpins everything from learning a new language, or an instrument, to shifting deeply embedded underlying behaviors, from fierce and unpredictable outbursts of anger to a tendency to take a glass-half-empty view of life. Coaching, therapy, physical exercise and the development of a regular mindfulness meditation practice are all examples of things that can support neuroplasticity. Another factor is novelty, which is what I’d like to talk about in this post.
Exposing the brain to novel experiences is good for us. From micro-novelties such as new foods, podcasts, books or friendships to bigger picture novel experiences (signing up for a life-drawing evening class, beginning a journaling practice, learning how to code), the brain responds dramatically to anything new. We know this as a result of brain scans. We can see that regular meditation, for example, enhances the brain’s ability to regulate emotion due to increased folding of the outer layer, and a shift in activity from the right to the left pre-frontal cortex. Learning how to play the violin leads to a significant expansion of the area that corresponds with your dominant ‘fingering’ hand. Most interesting of all, studies show that musicians’ neuroplasticity impacts on other parts of the brain too, giving global benefits above and beyond the actual learning itself.
You might be wondering how much scope you have for novelty in your work-life. Is your diary so booked up that you lurch from meeting to meeting, with a blinkered focus on productivity and deadlines? With some variation (there might be calls rather than meetings, or a rolling work schedule that puts you under pressure to deliver without any let-up), this hamster-wheel reality applies to the majority of people working in business today. Understanding this, the only way to factor in more novelty is to adopt a conscious approach to prioritizing it. To squeeze in as many ‘micro novelties’ as you can to your average day. Here are my top three recommendations:
Learn a language on your commute with an app such as DuoLingo. This is the single best way to improve your neuroplasticity, and I always recommend clients try it. If you can’t sacrifice your whole journey time to doing this, try spending ten minutes a day focusing on it.
Read books, listen to podcasts and music and watch TV programs and films that are outside of your comfort zone. Go to see an arthouse film if you’re a Marvel fan, or an action film if you normally watch documentaries. Try the same with reading: swap your usual newspaper for a different one, ask a bookseller for a novel recommendation, or listen to classical music if you normally choose rock. Variety of stimuli and experience will help build lateral connections in the brain that will help nurture your creativity and imagination and improve your executive function and decision making.
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