Our brains carry enormous responsibility in our lives. A healthy brain needs sleep, exercise, good nutrition, stimulation, and a social network. But did you know that our brains are always changing and reorganizing themselves based on what we do - and do not do?
This concept is known as neuroplasticity - and refers to our brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life and, at the same time, losing those which are no longer used.This ever-changing nature of the brain has huge implications for individuals of all ages, whether they are a child in a learning environment, an adult in a professional workplace or a senior citizen looking to retain mental sharpness.
It’s important to note that neuroplasticity is neither good nor bad in nature, it simply refers to our brain’s ability to change. Where it gets interesting is how we can harness positive neuroplasticity to strengthen our brain - allowing us to improve performance, overcome learning disabilities, adapt to new information and recover from injuries.
When it comes to the workplace, neuroplasticity can have a profound impact. By strengthening critical intellectual processes, overcoming areas of challenge, or even undiagnosed learning disabilities, adults of all ages can dramatically improve not only their professional performance - but their overall wellbeing.
Looking through an Arrowsmith lens, there is a lot we can do. The most direct path to a stronger brain is a cognitive program, Arrowsmith fundamentals can be used by anyone to stay cognitively healthy.
With that in mind, we’ve created this blog on how to improve neuroplasticity with five Arrowsmith principles that will help you achieve positive neuroplasticity and strengthen your brain.
Arrowsmith Principle #1
NOVELTY: Your brain likes fresh experiences
Picking up that dog-eared crossword puzzle? Making the same recipe that you’ve made every week? Your brain is bored! Essential to keeping your brain alert and active is ensuring it is being introduced to new materials, new opportunities, and new challenges. Create an at-home bucket list and get started.
When doing this, complexity is also something to keep in mind. New tasks must involve learning that has an appropriate level of complexity. Too difficult and you’ll likely get frustrated and give up, too easy and you won’t be working your brain enough to form new neural connections. You want to make sure that tasks are challenging, but also achievable. We’ll discuss this more in principle #3.
Arrowsmith Principle #2
ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT: It takes 10,000 hours to become a world-class expert
Schedule daily brain activities. Make it a priority in your day. Try to spend at least 20 to 30 minutes a day and stay with it for several months. This will increase the chances of you benefiting from your efforts, and you will notice tasks become easier as you go!
Neuroplastic change occurs over an extended period of time; it’s not a quick fix. That means to strengthen your brain it’s critical to spend sufficient time with exposure to the appropriate cognitive activities.
Arrowsmith Principle #3
EFFORTFUL PROCESSING: Mastering your destiny
If the task is too easy, you (and your brain) won’t be stimulated; if it’s too difficult, you’ll feel discouraged and won’t persevere. Create incremental steps of mastery within your activities starting at a level just slightly beyond what you can do with ease.
Don’t start at the Expert level of the activity – first master the intro levels. Memorizing poetry? Start with Shel Silverstein and work up to Shakespeare. Want to master crosswords? Start with one from a children’s book and continue mastering puzzles until you reach the New York Times weekend edition.
Arrowsmith Principle #4
DIFFERENTIATED STIMULATION: Keep your eye on the target
This is a common concept applied in physical fitness: “leg day” at the gym, or a focused core workout. To extend this to brain training - dissect an activity into parts, and focus on just one for that whole session. Practice just your minor guitar chords for example, or repeat a challenging knitting stitch. Become a master in a specific detail of a skill, and build from there.
For the greatest benefits, you’ll want to perform specific tasks that target and exercise the weaker areas of your brain (your cognitive functions) and strengthen them over time to improve performance.
Arrowsmith Principle #5
ATTENTION: Complete focus on the task at hand
Last but not least, we have attention. For positive neuroplasticity to take place and for individuals to strengthen their cognitive functions, focus on cognitive programming is critical. A lack of focus on the program will delay, or prevent neuroplastic change from occurring within the brain. What we attend to is what we change.
Further Ideas to Keep Your Mind Active
Here are some final ideas of activities to keep your mind active. We hope you try some of them! Your brain will thank you.
- Yoga and meditation are terrific for cognitive, emotional, and physical health.
- New skills might include learning a second language; musical instrument; woodworking; Rubik’s cube!
- Video games involving strategic planning can be good ways to train alertness, processing speed, and navigation skills.
- Logic games and puzzles can be found online, in books, or board games like chess or Risk.
Are you feeling held back in your personal or professional life? Take the Arrowsmith Cognitive Questionnaire to learn about your unique Cognitive Profile and find out how you can overcome your challenges through cognitive enhancement. Alternatively, learn more about the Arrowsmith Cognitive Assessment below.
January 30, 2024