The second step of my Brain Education (BE) method is all about flexibility. In terms of fitness, we usually think about our muscles, tendons, and joints when we think of flexibility, but there is another kind of flexibility that I believe is even more important—flexibility of the brain. The brain is a marvelous organ because, unlike other organs, it has the ability to recreate itself throughout life. This feature is called neuroplasticity, and it gives us the ability to learn new things and adapt to new situations.
Just like our bodies become less flexible if we don’t move and stretch enough, our brains can lose their flexibility, too. In fact, many people have very rigid and inflexible brains, becoming stuck in certain habitual behaviors and thought patterns. If we let that happen, our creativity and learning capacity are reduced, and our relationships become strained as we cling stubbornly to our personal preconceptions and points of view. In step 2 of Brain Education, we focus on “versatilizing” the brain so that we can always retain an open and creative brain.
Keep the Pathways Open
Neuroplasticity is essentially the brain’s ability to form new connections between brain cells, called neurons. Any time you learn or experience something new, your brain uses its neuroplasticity. You can never lose this ability entirely, but just like a muscle that is rarely used, it can lose its strength and flexibility. That’s part of the reason that people often lose the ability to learn quickly and easily as they get older; their brain has gotten out of the habit of learning new things, so learning becomes slow and tedious.
The best way to keep your brain’s neuroplasticity in top working order is to challenge your brain often. By learning and experiencing new things, your brain will have to form new connections, which exercises your brain’s neuroplasticity. For best results, choose things to learn and experience that stretch you in some way. It’s normal to want to always learn things that come easy to you and to visit places that are comfortable and familiar. But if you go outside of your comfort zone by learning something truly challenging or by going someplace completely new to you, you’ll be giving your brain a chance to form even more new connections.
Rewire for Healthier Habits
Developing a flexible brain is far more important than enhancing your ability to learn; it can also improve your life. The quality of your life is largely determined by the choices you make, so it is important to make good decisions in every moment of your life. That sounds simple enough, but it is not always so easy to do. Sometimes, even when we have experienced the negative consequences of our actions, we continue to make the same poor decisions. There are known as bad habits.
In the brain, habits develop when connections become “hardwired” into the brain. Because we have turned to the same behaviors over and over, the neural pathways are reinforced and it is very easy to choose that same behavior again, like taking a well-worn path through the woods. This brain feature plays a role in damaging addictions like smoking and overeating, but it is also a part of other subtler habits that affect the directions of our lives, like procrastination or negative thinking patterns.
Fortunately, thanks to the wonder of neuroplasticity, it is always possible to change habits, even if the related brain connections are deeply entrenched. As you advance through Brain Versatilizing, the step 2 of Brain Education, you learn to disrupt the patterns of behavior that reinforce neural connections related to negative habits. Over time, these connections will then begin to weaken as the behavior is avoided, and new healthy habits can take their place.
Unleash Your Creative Self
We humans are amazingly creative creatures, thanks to the brain, and I think it is extremely important for every person to understand that. You do not have to be a “creative type” to be creative; you are creative. If it seems like you are not exhibiting much creativity in your life and you feel like you are in a rut, it is probably because of preconceived beliefs, fears, and habits that are returning you to the same patterns in your life. In other words, your brain has lost its natural versatility.
Developing and reclaiming one’s creativity is an important part of Brain Education step 2. This is a matter of being able to shift perspectives and to be able to view a problem in new ways so that new solutions can be considered. This is important not just for creative projects but for life in general. As Einstein famously said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” That statement is as true for personal problems as it is for global affairs. Through Brain Versatilizing exercises, your brain is trained to nimbly switch perspectives so that all aspects of a problem and all potential solutions may be considered.
Becoming a Brain Artist
You are a sculptor. That statement is true because of every thought you think and every moment you experience. You may not work in clay or stone, but instead you work in gray matter, through the connections between brain cells that shape the state of your brain. And in turn, this brain that you sculpt then creates the life you live, determining the quality of your relationships and the viability of your aspirations. If you want to create something different or better in your life but you are finding it difficult, it is probably because you are trying to fix something outside of yourself instead of using the full potential of the only tool you have to create the life of your dreams—your wondrous, versatile brain. In the next blog, I will share some easy-to-follow exercises from Brain Education Step 2 to help you do just that.