Organize and Rearrange…for Brain Power

In the previous ‘Brain power‘ post, I discussed the value of mixing up our exercise and activity routines to help our neural network make new connections. Practicing non-dominant activities helps our brain build redundancy into our brain circuitry. Such behaviors may in fact help ward off or reduce the effects of aging and disease. In today’s post I would like to consider the refreshing brain benefits of organizing and re-arranging our living spaces.

Brain researchers have known for some time that organized people perform better on memory tests. Getting organized helps build better memory. The old adage ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ is built on this organization principle. But organization skills do not have to be exorbitant to be helpful. Spending five minutes organizing one’s desk or medicine cabinet can improve efficiency, memory and possibly reduce stress levels too.

A related activity, re-arrangement, also helps our brains strengthen spatial and visual connections. For instance, by re-arranging furniture in your living spaces on an occasional basis, the brain must re-map neural connections to assist us in navigating the new floor space and layout. Something as simple as moving a trash can from one location to another, requires our brains to re-map circuitry (memory and movement) as we must now navigate to a new location to throw away a piece of litter. Taking a different route home (on foot or in our vehicle) provides a similar benefit.

It doesn’t require much, except may a little creativity on our part, to change the scenery in which we reside and navigate. Kitchen cabinets, pantries, desks, counters and backyard walkways all provide ample opportunities for us to challenge and improve our brain’s neural pathways.

Remember, brainpower increases and improves when we build novelty into our regular activity patterns. When we do familiar things in unfamiliar ways we wake up nerve cells which in turn increases blood flow to make these new connections for our brain cells. A little change goes a long way.

 



Mix it Up…for Brain Power

As a personal trainer, I often advise my clients to mix up their exercise routines to keep their muscles and their mind challenged. Science has taught us that regular bouts of exercise produce adaptations in the neural connections between our brain and muscles. And we easily recognize these adaptations when we become stronger and have improved aerobic endurance. But even these improvements plateau if we do not mix things up in our activity routines every once in a while.

So how do we overcome plateaus? We overcome plateaus by disrupting our regular routines. Planned, purposeful disruption is strong medicine for creating healthy neural pathways. By adding something new to our exercise or movement routines, we create opportunities for our brains to adapt (reroute and rewrite neural pathways) when we integrate novel movement patterns into our daily activities.

For example, one thing I always suggest my clients do to improve their balance is to switch sides when engaging in routine daily activities. In other words, I encourage them to use their non-dominant hands or legs. If you are right hand dominant, try using your left hand once a day to brush your teeth, write your name or use your computer mouse. Likewise, notice which leg you tend to put into your pants first when you dress…then switch it up once in a while. Making these simple changes recruits and strengthens NEW neural connections.

If switching sides feels awkward or uncomfortable, that is normal, and the
reason we feel ‘off balance’ when we use our non-dominant limbs to do everyday activities is because we have, by years and years of preference, created a strong neural pathway (preference), and this preference is now COMFORTABLE. But from my perspective, comfortable equates to easy which equates to weakness which equates to imbalance; and imbalance is almost always a foundation not only for injury but also for illness. So remember, once in a while, a purposeful disruption needs to be introduced into your day. I hope you will have fun with this and choose to engage in some practical disruption soon. It’s good for your brain. It’s good for your body!


This is the first post in the brain power series. If you want to learn about more ways to improve your brain power, then follow my blog and have notification of my posts sent directly to your email.


“Obviously creation was great, but it is far more important for us to understand that creation is the reflection of the very nature of God.

Remember, we can create only out of who we are, and everything we create is a reflection of who we are. So it makes perfect sense that all of creation, every stroke of the creative act, ended with an emphatic declaration that it was good.

Creation was good because God is good. Creation resulted in life because God is life.”
The Artisan Soul by Irwin Raphael McManus

 

Good and Great



A Tough Nut

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Whether we use this term to describe a person or the hard shelled edible fruit or seed of a tree, a tough nut is hard to crack for many reasons. Sometimes I think of myself in these terms. I don’t know if others do, it doesn’t matter really, but I do know that mental toughness is a valuable skill to attain. As a runner, I’ve learned that mental toughness is absolutely essential when engaging in competitive long distance events. The ability to effectively manage bodily discomforts during a long distance run via the mind, can mean the difference between success or failure.

But long before I was a runner, I had endured enough hard-knocks which toughened me up in other areas of my character too. Of course, as a person who holds firmly to my faith as a Christ follower, I would sometimes feel guilty for the hard lines that characterized my inner self. But I rationalized this hardness of me, by perceiving it as my safety mechanism. Hardness protected me from those things, those people, those situations that had the potential to break me down.

And then today I continued my reading of a book by Anne Lamott, Small Victories, and what does she do but describe her beautiful friend who is dying from leukemia as “a pretty tough customer in her private life, though she had become visibly softer.” Ms. Lamott observed in her friend that it took cancer to ‘wedge a certain kind of person open, so that many new things can get in.’  Wham! Wow! Seriously? A certain kind of person? What kind of person? A tough nut kind of person? Um, yes…hello! So tough nuts get wedged open? by cancer? by hard things in life? Ouch! I don’t want to be that kind of person!

I next find myself ruminating on this idea while I’m running later in the morning. And of course, I’m thinking about tough nuts and how hard some of them are to crack open. Then I considered the destiny of the hard to open nut…it isn’t pretty…and I am sure you know what’s coming…the hammer, right? That’s right, a tough nut gets the hammer or it gets tossed into the waste bucket. And why I wondered do we treat hard, unopened nuts with such force and determination? Why, because unopened, nuts are not good for much of anything, except maybe the compost pile. A nut’s value is in its insides, its fruit or seed is it vitality; its life-giving energy; so first, the hard shell must be cracked open.

So yes, I am, from time to time, a tough nut to crack. But that’s only because I think ~ or rather, I perceive ~ that ‘hardness’ is akin to safety, to sanity, to longevity. But thankfully, today some cracks have been made anew on my tough outer shell; and through the cracks I continue to realize that hardness does not so much protect as it does to isolate. When I isolate my inner self, I shut out the illuminating life force of LOVE.

It takes LOVE to crack tough nuts like me, and you, open. It takes the LIGHT of LOVE to warm and guide us to safety outside our hard shells. But it is LOVE, and LOVE ONLY that will never fail to guide us so we may go forward to discover the treasures hidden for us in the hard things of life.



The Ripple Effect

Fresh bamboo leaves over water

The other day I came across a news item in Runner’s World had which told the story of one man’s determination to finish a 5K race every month in 2015. The story began with Derek Mitchell’s last place finish at the Kansas City Big 12 5K. Some folks might not be so keen to have this sort of story told about themselves. But for Derek Mitchell, he’s a man on the move…a man who currently weighs in around 570 pounds. He was tempted to quit before he completed the first mile, but he kept his mental focus on his goal…crossing the finish line. Derek’s story reminded me of so many things that are important to keeping us on track when we set our sights on a future goal. But two things seemed most critical: practice (training) for the race event and having a support system (family, friends, peers). These two components can be boiled down to one element: Accountability.

Practice that perfects our ability involves deliberate intention…in other words ACTION is required. And purposeful action engenders accountability. In Derek’s case, he let the world-wide community know about his intentions and his monthly goal. That is a bold, brave and effective strategy for him to embrace; but this is a behavior which all true goal seekers intuitively perform. Additionally, when we make ourselves accountable to another or to others, we certify and solidify for ourselves our intentions. But there is a bonus effect…a ripple effect if you will. When we engage others in our goal setting, we have the potential to inspire those with whom we have gathered around our plan. Sometimes those inspired are curious onlookers or strangers, as in Derek’s case. Sometimes those inspired are family members, co-workers, or friends. Most times though, we never know who will be caught up in our momentum and motivated to implement similar goals for themselves.

Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action-takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily actions. John Di Lemme

In physics there is a law of conservation of energy which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another. If energy conservation is real in the physical world, it is also true in the unseen world of the body/mind/spirit. If we consider that energy is changed from one form to another (from thought to physical action), then we realize that our physical action activates changes not only in ourselves (body/mind/spirit), but our energies also radiate to those whom we encounter in route to our goal.

Consider the ripple effect a gentle breeze has upon those things within its path. We see its consequence when we watch leaves, twigs, brush and bramble dance across open ground in the presence of this invisible energy source. Likewise, as we move with intention towards our goals, we transform energy from thought to body, from invisible to visible. Not only do we propel ourselves toward our intended goals but others may be moved by our energy in the ripple and wake of our efforts…sometimes so much so that they are caught up with us in our vision. Whether seen or unseen, our intentional energies have the potential to transform not only our lives but also the lives of others; and this begins with every determinate act we make towards the finish line.



Lighten Up!

He says my smile makes my eyes light up and my face shine bright. He says my smile makes all things right…in the world…his and mine. I chuckle when he tells me this silly little truth, because a smile sometimes is the hardest thing for me to do. ‘We are not children anymore my dear; our days are full of care and bother, under our bridge has churned much water. So please glance light, and notice not my furrowed brow; I must pack my smiles away for now; for safe keeping in a trunk somewhere, I think’. But then I remember how a smile…his smile, warms me with delight; how it makes hard things simple, and simple things light. I hear his words replay, a gentle reminder to send a smile his way; and before I can raise a practiced scowl, a bubbling arises and quivers my lips; my eyes light up and my face shines bright, and I can’t help but do what he asks. So I send him my smile…and delight of delights…my smile is returned and makes all things right…in the world…his and mine.

inspirational-smile-quotes

Smiling really does delight and lighten the hearts of those in the world in which we live, and there is science to back up what we seem to know intuitively, namely, smiling releases those happy, feel-good hormones into our bloodstream, sending positive healing nourishment coursing through our circulatory and immune systems. A smile needs no lexicon, no thesaurus, no cross-cultural dictionary…it spans every ethnic boundary. It communicates acceptance, honor, joy, delight, love and fun. Sometimes we smile to be polite and that is an extremely helpful and socially acceptable behavior to practice in our modern, fast-paced society. And while the polite social smile may not carry with it the genuine warmth and sincerity of an authentic heart-felt smile, used liberally throughout our busy days, it still does a world of good, for the sender and the receiver.

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.
Mother Teresa