How to rewire your brain for a happier life?
Brain plasticity or Neuroplasticity has become a fairly common term, but not a lot of people actually understand the science behind it, and very few actually apply the knowledge to their lives.
So, what is Neuroplasticity?
Simply put, It refers to our brain’s ability to change. ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together’, is how it is mostly explained.
Neurons are carriers of information. This information is passed from one point to another in the form of electrical and chemical signals.
When we do something, the action fires certain neurons in our brain. This leads to the formation of a neural pathway and if this action is repeated, it gets hardwired into our brain.
Our skills, behavior and character traits are all rooted in neural connections. Repetition can strengthen these neural pathways and a lack of use can weaken them.
Neuroscientists have discovered that this process continues throughout life.
You can change any habit or form new ones. Brain training can even prevent dementia.
If you practice being happy for several days, the pathways associated with the feeling will strengthen and the behavior will start occurring naturally.
Examples to better understand the concept –
The cab drivers in London have a better-developed hippocampus (part of the brain that helps with navigation) as compared to others.
Studies of Albert Einstein’s brain have revealed the brain regions associated with mathematical intelligence to be larger than the one associated with language skills.
Counseling works because a person of trust repeatedly compels you to build neural pathways supporting healthy behavior.
Now, consider the wider implication of your brain’s adaptability. You can structure your brain for a better life.
We go through life like headless chickens, with so much out of our control and when things start to unravel, most of us blame the external environment.
To a certain extent, the external environment does have a lot to do with how our life shapes up, but most of it comes down to our choices in life.
Understanding brain plasticity can give you some sense of control over your life.
It’s how patients with grievous injuries learn to walk again.
Brain damaged patients learn to live their life from scratch – they form brand new neural pathways through brain training.
Obviously, their struggle and recovery has a lot more to it, and cannot be compared to the simple struggles we face in everyday life.
The point is, if a person can put his entire body and life back together, surely we can kick a few bad habits for a better life. You can quit smoking, drinking or procrastination even.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!
Doesn’t this make you feel powerful? Every time I talk about this subject, I feel such excitement.
I have successfully applied these learnings to my life and I try to encourage everyone to do the same.
This is conclusive proof of the fact that if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen. You simply have to WANT to change.
Being a Psychology student, I have known about all of this since the first year of college, but I used this knowledge only when things got really bad in my life.
Now, my walls are covered with charts mapping my behavior, positive quotes, and happy pictures.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
You have the power to establish complete control over your mind and live a deliberate, purposeful life.
Now that we understand the science behind it, let’s talk about the possibilities.
1) With enough effort, we can form healthier habits
Neuroplasticity is how we form habits. This is how addict behavior is developed.
When you take drugs, it makes you feel good.
Your brain associates that feeling with the substance you consumed and in pursuit of that ‘high’, you start abusing drugs.
You see, this is a learned behavior. It is possible for an addict to heal himself by re-training his brain. You can break ANY bad habit.
2) We can learn to have better control over our lives and temperaments
I could spend hours talking about the god-awful things I have done in a temper. It is debilitating to know that you can’t predict or control your own behavior.
Living at the mercy of emotions robs you of self-belief and ultimately, self-respect. You can end this cycle.
3) Brain training can help us be happier and more optimistic
Every time you are faced with a stressful idea, redirect your brain towards something else.
If there is a difficult, but important task that needs to be done, deliberately cultivate a positive outlook.
It will take time, but you will see a change. You will take on challenges without crippling fear and with a certainty that if you work hard enough, you can win.
Imagine what this little change could do to your life.
This world is full of people who live in perpetual fear of an uncertain future. It is possible to end this mindless suffering.
You really can overcome depression and anxiety disorders. It is not easy, but it is possible. You can be the architect of your brain and therefore, your life.
Now, let’s talk about some exercises that can help you channel this power.
The ones that I’ve used with considerable success –
1) Constant Exposure to Positive stimuli
I have a habit of spending 20-30 minutes every day watching or reading something motivational either first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
My phone has playlists for every mood and one with songs that are all about ‘girl power’. I watch a lot of comedy and motivational interviews.
Cram your life full of positive stimuli – good books, movies, conversations, travel, fun activities – whatever works for you.
Try and make it a part of your daily schedule and I promise, you will see a shift in your mood.
You will find yourself having more patience even in the midst of a crisis. Persist with this long enough and you will change into a much more pleasant individual.
2) Cheer up!
Smile if the day isn’t going your way. Smiling can trick your brain into believing that you are happy.
If I ever feel grumpy, I break into laughter (yes, without reason…see, this is why I don’t blame people when they think I am crazy)
Smiling reduces stress and stimulates the flow of endorphins. You instantly feel better. The feeling can be sustained with good music, a quick chat with your favorite person or just a run around the block.
3) Regularise your sleep patterns
Go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
Eventually, your body will adapt to these hours and you will have a healthier sleep cycle.
Good sleep is like pressing the reboot button on your mind. You wake up stress-free and with renewed energy levels. This leads to improved cognitive function.
4) Little Habits with large impacts
Now, we are aware that we have the power to train our brain into giving up bad habits and taking up healthier ones. Identify your bad habits and try to come up with a plan to fight them.
Indulge in behavior specifically designed to weaken that particular habit and keep repeating it. Brain training to the win!
I had an issue with keeping my cool in provocative situations. In no time, I would lose my temper and say things that would make me feel awful about myself.
Finally, I realized that the only way to stop doing this was to walk away completely.
I can’t stand and rationally fight so, I just walk away. Sticking around for so much as a second is not an option for me, or I lose my temper.
Visualize your success.
Getting rid of a bad habit is difficult, but necessary. The strategy is to ‘DISTRACT AND REDIRECT’.
Find a replacement behavior and repeat it enough times for it to turn into a reflex action.
I get angry, I walk away and instantly my brain goes into analytical mode. Instead of reacting, I analyze.
5) Diet and Exercise
This is a no-brainer. A healthy diet and proper exercise schedule have made a massive difference to my life.
My focus is better and my mood is elevated. I have gotten into a habit of eating healthy and getting proper exercise.
If I eat unhealthy food, I can’t sleep. The day I don’t exercise, I can’t sleep AND I am grumpy.
If this isn’t reason enough, then the way I feel after a workout is. The endorphins turn me into a chihuahua on Red bull – I love it. I get so much done after a workout.
Regular exercise improves memory, focus and other cognitive skills. It increases the flow of chemicals that fight stress. The bonus is a great body and healthier heart.”]
To exercise, you need food. Food fuels your brain and body.
Make sure this fuel is of good quality and meets all the necessary requirements or you’ll achieve absolutely nothing. Junk food is filling, but it gives us no energy.
A lot of people indulge in comfort eating. Kick that habit by finding other means of comfort – write, meditate, exercise! Here is an article that can help.
6) Read and Create
Nothing improves brain functioning like reading. Reading both stimulates your mind and relaxes it.
It enriches your imagination and improves brain connectivity. It also helps us be more empathetic.
Indulging in creativity works in similar ways. It flexes critical thinking skills. It promotes Neuron growth, reduces stress and helps fight depression.
Art projects are therapeutic to patients with psychiatric conditions.
Isn’t it amazing how something so small and simple can have such an enormous impact on our lives?
If you suffer from anxiety or depression, you should read positive books that maintain an upbeat tone throughout the book. Avoid dark genres.
These are other practices that come highly recommended –
This comes HIGHLY recommended!! Meditation can potentially change your life.
It is said to have many benefits with better cognitive functioning, the release of stress, positive outlook and better impulse control.
I have tried meditating, but not with the right amount of dedication. It seems that I am a little too restless for it.
I mean to give it another try. Based on the studies I have read, meditation can be the key to almost perfect emotional control.
8) Intermittent Fasting
It leads to an improved metabolic health. Intermittent fasting gives your brain time to repair past damage and clean up harmful toxins. Intermittent fasting can also boost the immune system and tissue repair.
I have tried this, but I wasn’t consistent enough to study the results.
9) Learn an instrument or language
Acquiring a new skill leads to the formation of new neural pathways. It strengthens your brain and increases focus.
10) Use your non-dominant hand
Doing simple tasks with your non-dominant hand strengthens brain connectivity. It also helps with anger management.
Our brain is a mysterious part of our body. There is a lot we still don’t understand about it, but what we do know is mind-boggling. Don’t live your life in ignorance. Recognise the power you have over your own life, happiness, and your environment.
I am not going to lie to you, none of this is easy to do.
It can be done, but it takes a lot of effort and most importantly, you have to really, really want it.
There are no instant results. You have to be patient and positive. Remember, repeating an action is the key here.
Do anything enough times and it will get hardwired into your brain! So, suppress the negative and repeat the positive behavior and you’ll see the change for yourself! Build a routine that helps make all this a part of your daily life.
If you want more information on any of the above points, let me know. Subscribe to the newsletter, so that I can let you know when I publish similar posts.