We all tend to gravitate to what is comfortable and familiar…..sitting at the same place at the dinner table every night, going through the motions of the same routine to get ready for the day each morning, or going to the same favourite places on the weekends or on holidays. We are creatures of habit and routine habits generally make us comfortable.
It might be time to do something new, to think outside of the box, to nurture new neural pathways in the brain. There has been a lot of attention in recent years directed to the idea of brain plasticity. Daniel Siegel, the author of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, travels the world letting people know about the newer, more optimistic ideas regarding the brain. He is just one of many professionals currently teaching about the potential of the brain. In the not so distant past, there was a belief that somewhere around age 25, the neurons in the brain start to die off and it’s all downhill from there. We now know that the brain is capable of forming new neural networks and pathways well into old age. It is never too late to learn a new set of skills or new ways of doing things.
Ideas to stimulate neural pathways:
- Do something creative.In our society, creativity is often underrated. In Wikipedia, “Creativity” refers to the invention or origination of any new thing (a product, solution, artwork, literary work, joke, etc.) that has value. Make something. Witness something that others have made such as going to an art museum. Learn something new such as how to do woodwork or metal work, how to make your own soap, how to cook a new ethnic dish, or how to put together a photo book online. Creative possibilities are endless.
- Do something that scares you….but is not actually dangerous.Anxiety symptoms such as rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, the sense of butterflies in your stomach, clammy hands, etc. tend to restrict us from doing things. It can be a vicious cycle because avoiding things that cause anxiety generally makes the anxiety worse. For example, if you are afraid of speaking in public and you successfully avoid every opportunity to speak in public, you will stay stuck with your anxiety symptoms related to public speaking. Doing something that scares you in this example might include joining an organization such as “Toastmasters” where you are presented with opportunities to push yourself out of your comfort zone and to build public speaking skills.
- Write down dreams and wishes for the future. Brainstorm.Give yourself some time to sit down and reflect on what you are hoping to achieve in your life and what kinds of dreams you have for the future. The technique of “brainstorming” involves writing down all ideas without initially judging or critiquing. Judging ideas as they emerge stifles the creative process. It’s important to have uninterrupted time and space for this process. Some ideas to help stimulate this process is to think about what you would do if you won a million dollars?, what you would do if you knew you could not fail?, or how would you know that your life was a success if you were to look back on it at age 95 or 100?
- Switch things up. Here is a fun activity. Sit at a different place at the dinner table tonight without saying anything to anyone and watch what happens. Sit at a different spot in your meeting room at work without saying anything. Make contact with a friend you have lost touch with. Try a new kind of exercise. Change your routine and become less predictable to those around you.
- Challenge yourself and record your progress. Gretchen Ruben wrote a book called The Happiness Project. She decided to see if she could get more happiness out of her current life, while not making any huge changes but instead focusing on certain areas of her life to see if she could milk more happiness from what she already had. She did this for a year. She reported feeling happier, and as a bonus, her book became a best seller.
In summary, stimulating neural pathways is good for us. It keeps us engaged with life. It makes life more interesting as well as making us more interesting to be around. It helps us to grow and develop.