No matter where you find yourself in life, chances are you have picked up a thing or two about quite a lot. Maybe by now, you have mastered what interests you and, because we humans like to feel validated and popular, you may have focused your attention on that which you know you are good at. When you zoom in on a skill set that comes easily to you, it is a bit like picking low hanging fruit – it does not require the same level of concentration as something you may find more challenging.
However, just like a plant needs water to grow, humans need challenges for their brain to grow too. The effort and unfamiliarity that comes from learning something new literally spark up our brains and new neural connections are formed. So even if it feels uncomfortable to be a beginner at something, or having to consider a new mindset after being stuck in a familiar rut, the hardship that it may involve can really do wonders for your brain.
The more we learn, the more neural networks we form.
The more curious we are and the more new stuff we attempt to master, the more we expand and rewire our neural networks. Did you know that we can even grow new brain cells (neurons) by engaging in new activities? Who knew. Here are some of the benefits learning for life can bring:
- expands our thinking and takes us outside of our comfort zone resulting in us being more resilient to future challenges.
- hatch new ideas and innovations as we are literally thinking differently – meaning the brain now has access to information it previously could not utilise.
- finds new solutions to old problems that we could not see beyond in the past. With a new perspective, our solution-focused brain is now able to hone in on the right idea at the right time.
- The adage ‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn’, tells us that mistakes are valuable lessons of what not to do next time.
Here are some other cool ways to ‘grow’ your brain.
- Moving your body – Exercise promotes neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, by stimulating new, neural connections as well as contributing to an actual increase in neurons. The more you exercise, the more oxygen is pumped into your brain which helps brain cell growth. Exercise makes you smarter!
- Prioritise sleep – it is no secret that healthy brain development and memory formation happens when we are asleep. We refresh, get rid of toxicity, reorganise and rewire whilst having some much-needed shut-eye. The motto that sleep is for losers has long been discarded. Sleep is now the new black as more science show how necessary sleep is for enabling the body to repair cells, restore energy, and release hormones and proteins.
- Eating the right food – the human brain consists of 60% fat and fat is important for proper brain function. By eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and sardines, we can ensure we get the right building blocks to optimise memory and learning. Ground flax seeds, chia and walnuts are other plant sources if you are not a fish eater. Other good brain foods are blueberries & blackcurrants, eggs, pumpkin seeds, broccoli and nuts.
Learning and trying new things can continue well into old age and science now knows that it has got less to do with your age and more to do with how much you engage your grey matter and challenge yourself. Learning, rather than the outcome, is, therefore, the key.