Posts Tagged ‘brain health’

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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Since the beginning of time, people have liked routine. We like the known. It makes us feel in control. Safe and comfortable. Boy does this ever resonant now during these Covid times. So, it is no surprise that many of us resist change. Even if we are not 100% satisfied with status quo, we will hold onto it. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. But maybe not….

Our resistance to change is not because we are stubborn or want to be difficult (at least not you or me). It is a reflection of our brains. The brain loves to make sense of the world and helps us control our lives. This is an excellent thing. It keeps us safe.  And, like so many things, if overdone, can be harmful. The inability to change or grow can result in stagnation. No progress. Not good for an individual, a society or a country. 

February’s “coffee chat” topic, hosted by The Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence was Catalyzing Change. This is one of the 26 competencies that make up their social and emotional intelligence model. 

During our chat we talked about many things and what I want to focus on today is the benefit of becoming more of a change catalyzer and less of a change resistor. In particular focusing on one critical benefit that may not be the first one that comes to mind: the positive impact of change on brain health. Yup, change can help our brains remain agile throughout our lives. 

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

Our brains grow and change naturally. Often quite dramatically until around our mid to late 20’s. Historical thinking about the brain was that once we became adults our brains were “hard -wired” and stopped changing. The die was cast. Or so we thought. Recent neuroscience research shows that our brains are much more flexible than we first thought, hence the term neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and ignore or lose those that are no longer used. We can change our habits, biases and behaviours. Not easy, but possible.

The main benefit of becoming a change catalyzer is that change can help keep our brains agile throughout our life. We can lead richer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, according to neuroscientist and author David Eagleman the single most important thing we can do for our brains is to cognitively challenge them. And that means embracing change. 

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Embracing Change: So what can you do to become more of a change catalyzer and improve the health of your brain? Start small to build your comfort level with change.

For example:

  • Take different routes to and from frequent destinations.
  • Try new restaurants and new types of cuisine.
  • Switch hands for common tasks such as brushing your teeth.
  • Expand your horizons in general. This can be listening to music, reading books, watching movies from styles and genres that you normally wouldn’t.

Of course the small things are not enough. Move on to more challenging activities and behaviours. Such as:

  •  Learn a new language or instrument. 
  • Embrace mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Think less about failing and more about exposing yourself to new activities and experiences. 
  • Practice, and more practice. Simply doing something once is not enough to create a new pathway in the brain. Try, try, and try again. If not perfect, practice does make better. 
  • Be open to new ideas and practices.  Maybe you have heard someone (not you of course) say “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “ we’ve always done it this way.” Resist the urge to stop there.  Go further and ask “ so what if it did change?What then?” 
  • Focus. Be present. Breathe. Deeply. Forget multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired for that. In fact the more we take on, the more our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Take up yoga, meditation or simply go for a walk in nature. 
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“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Robin Sharma

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more on neuroscience, change and emotional intelligence. Please feel free to share your comments, questions, tips.

Resources 

There are many excellent resources on neuroscience. Here are three that relate to this article. 

 “The Nun Study”. This study showed that multilingualism and linguistic ability may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Science Daily September 12, 2019 University of Waterloo.

 “The Four Underling Principles of Changing your Brain “Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author, Forbes March 27, 2018.

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

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