Healthy Mind

Change is Good for the Brain

Change is good! It can be a positive force in your life and strengthen your brain health tremendously.

Doing new things or doing familiar activities differently activates your brain much more than following your usual routines. By placing yourself in unfamiliar places and situations, you will challenge and enrich your brain. The unfamiliar can help you build your cognitive reserve, your brain bank account, and new neural infrastructure.

YOUR BRAIN IS FUNDAMENTALLY LAZY!

To be fair, it’s really just trying to help you save energy. One of your brain’s favorite ways to avoid work is to avoid change. The more familiar things are, the less work your brain has to do. Your brain loves habits because if it’s routine, you can avoid thinking. The more familiar you are with your environment and the people with whom you socialize, the less your brain needs to work to figure out the situation, and the safer and more comfortable you’ll feel.

In any situation, your brain will try to find the easy way out, the path of least resistance. The problem is you need resistance to grow stronger, just like going to the gym to lift weights; only in this case, the weights are mental.

If you find yourself in a new situation, your brain will attempt to get back to something familiar and comfortable. But if this is impossible because you are deliberately trying a new thing, your brain immediately begins to create a new routine for dealing with the new situation. Our minds can transform anything new and unfamiliar into something familiar and easy, and once that happens, it will no longer challenge and strengthen your brain.

The brain’s ability to adapt to the unfamiliar is astounding. It’s one of the reasons humans have evolved into the world’s dominant species. But from a survival perspective, the brain’s ability to adapt needs to be balanced with minimizing energy consumption.

That’s why your brain rewards you for saving energy. That’s why you feel more at ease just doing what you’re used to. Your brain may even discourage you from trying new things by throwing anxiety into the mix. The more unfamiliar things are, the more anxious we get. No wonder it’s hard to accept change!

So what’s the conclusion? Are habits and routines good for us?

Habits and routines are both necessary and can indeed be positive, especially if the habits are doing good things in your life, like working out two to three times a week. Habits are perfect for becoming efficient and productive. But there is a catch!

When your brain defaults to a habit, it isn’t challenged. Doing the usual does not require the brain to process things deeply, and that’s a problem. No challenge for the brain means it has no need to stay fit.

The best way to strengthen your brain is to put it to work. The more you make it work, the stronger it becomes. So if you choose the familiar, you are also choosing to let your brain off the hook. You are choosing not to do the mental push-ups.

Every day you have more than 100 opportunities to choose between the usual or new, between the easy or the challenging. That’s more than 100 opportunities to relax or strengthen your brain. All those decisions add up over your lifetime.

It’s like choosing whether to take the stairs or the escalator. It may not seem like a big deal, and if you are thinking short-term, it isn’t. But if you look at accumulated effect over the course of months or years, it can make a massive difference to your level of fitness and health.

Therefore, my advice to you is to look positively at change. Change is good! Change activates your brain. The new and unfamiliar forces your brain to work and learn. Seek change instead of avoiding it. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, like moving somewhere else (although this is great for your brain). It can be the everyday things, like changing the newspaper you read or trying a new type of food for breakfast.

Go out and explore the world. Meet new people. Try new things. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Although your brain may complain a bit in the beginning, it will love you for it in the end.


 

About the author

Kim Baden-Kristensen

Kim founded the Danish brain training company, Brain+, with the vision of creating the most effective and engaging brain training tools from cutting edge neuroscientific insights. Follow Kim on Twitter @KimBadenK or www.brain-plus.com

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