The clock is ticking. Deadlines are looming. The inbox is full. We’ve all been there. The harder and faster you pedal, the more overwhelmed you feel.
The human brain is amazingly complex, but you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know when it isn’t performing at its peak. As it turns out, pedaling harder and faster may be sabotaging your ability to get out of the rut.
Recent research now proves that we can actually control the efficiency of our brain.
Neuroplasticity is the key. Neuroplasticity is what makes learning, personal growth and development possible. The more plastic the brain is, the better it is able to rewire itself, stimulate neurons, and strengthen the connections between nerve cells and different brain areas. In simpler terms, the more areas of the brain we connect and engage, the more efficiently it works.
Here are four ways to reboot your brain so that your whole brain is firing on all cylinders.
Move the body and the brain will follow.
Over the last 100 years, the connection between the mind and body has been explored in depth. Today, neuroscientists agree that motor activity and cognition are powerfully linked. Not only do we know that physical activity stimulates neuron growth that contributes to overall cognition, but there is also a direct correlation between memory and higher-level functions.
Physical exercise changes the neural plasticity of the brain and increases the oxygen that feeds it. Research indicates that physical activities not only increase the thickness of the motor cortex, but also increase the density of blood vessels and the number of neurons and synapses in the cerebellum.
This doesn’t require a trip to the gym. Anything that is good for your heart is good for the brain. A brisk 20-minute walk around the building or a trip up and down the stairs can increase your heart rate enough to give your brain an oxygen boost and wake up the cerebellum.
Crank up the music.
Music and brain function are inextricably linked. Playing an instrument or listening to music is the brain’s equivalent of a cross-training workout. The impact of music on memory has been correlated to complex perception, cognition, and motor function since the “Mozart Effect” study conducted in 1993. More recent studies show that music can actually retrain the injured brain and a new scientific model, Neurologic Music Therapy, has emerged in this field.
Neuroimaging techniques illustrate the powerful impact music has on the elasticity of the brain. Music physically changes the brain and engages areas that are not unique to music. The auditory (temporal lobe), emotional (limbic system), and motor (cerebellum) regions all grow larger and interact more efficiently when the brain processes music. Music can also affect mood and emotion which are important factors to learning and brain function.
Whether you prefer the classical sounds of Andrea Bocelli or the country croons of Luke Bryan, crank up the music that inspires you. You’ll engage more parts of your brain, rewire the neurons that enable deeper cognition, and tap into greater creativity.
Pose for power.
We typically think of body language as a manifestation of our feelings. Recent studies suggest that body language actually changes the brain. Power poses (imagine a strong standing pose like Superman or Superwoman) for a little as two minutes can elevate testosterone levels that regulate memory, spatial awareness and attention. They can also decrease cortisol levels, the hormone released to regulate stress.
Powerful poses take up more space. When you make your body larger and more powerful, your brain follows suit. The next time you’re feeling stressed, put your body in charge of changing your mind.
Get a serotonin boost.
Serotonin is an important neurochemical that plays a significant role in our moods and behavior. The brain releases serotonin when we feel significant or important. Most antidepressants are designed to stimulate the production of it. We can actually induce the production of serotonin with three simple strategies:
- We get a serotonin boost when we enjoy feelings of accomplishment or achievement. Surprisingly, the brain has trouble distinguishing between past achievements and current ones. Reflecting on a past achievement can also produce serotonin the same way it does in the moment.
- In addition, recent research correlates gratitude with serotonin and dopamine production. To generate a quick boost and a psychological shift, write down three people or things for which you’re grateful.
- A few minutes in the sunshine can also stimulate serotonin production. The next time you grab a bottle of water and find a sunny spot to soak in the vitamin D, think about the happy chemicals you’re producing in your brain.
When we understand how the brain works, we can take control over the negative functions that impact energy and performance. Like any other muscle in the body, the brain needs exercise and maintenance. A few simple intentional behaviors can give your brain a tune-up when you need it. So, fire up your favorite playlist, take a walk in the sunshine, and bring back your A-game!
If you enjoyed this post, let me know with a like or comment… or better yet, share it with someone in your corner of the world!
Dr. Melissa Hughes is the founder and principal of The Andrick Group. Our mission is to engage, inspire, and educate people who are looking for ways to more effectively teach and learn. We deliver tailored, dynamic workshops to help organizations improve their work by learning about learning and thinking about thinking.