Grow your brain


The intricate mechanisms of neurogenesis are still being discovered; so far the process has been studied in the hippocampus region of the brain. The significance of the discovery is that it sheds light on how the brain regenerates itself as well as our infinite capacity to learn.

As you will most likely be aware, the brain is also constantly making connections and firing synapses so that when we learn something for the first time a new neural pathway is formed. The repetition of doing something ‘new’ reinforces the neural pathways correlated to the task, thought, or activity, allowing for an eventual new mindset or skill to be acquired. In other words the brain enables us to change and be more adaptive to changes in our world.

There are two ways that we can encourage our brain’s ability to work at opening the doors of possibility for us: The first way of improving your brain power, and for you to get nearer to the things that you want to achieve, is through hard cardio activity. If that statement fills you with dismay then admit it and move on, realising that it’s time to start thinking like a leader. In other words, first acknowledge your negative feelings about the challenges ahead, and then set out to conquer them, energetically.

Intense cardiovascular exercise, specifically running, encourages neurogenesis to take place in areas of the hippocampus. To date studies have concentrated on the hippocampus; however, the hypothesis is that neurogenesis occurs throughout the entire brain and central nervous system.

The other advantage of a rigorous workout is the flood of neurochemicals such as dopamine. The significance of neurogenesis in the hippocampus region is in regards to memory and learning. Memory plays a crucial role in how we learn, as without retention and recollection of new knowledge we cannot progress in executing new things. In other words, neurogenesis reinforces the new routines and skills you will need to hone and develop in order to live ‘The Art of Possible’.

In a recent study in the US it was discovered that the hippocampus does actually get bigger and stronger through exercise. The body and brain are connected, and in order to move forward we do need to be in a state of action. ‘Neurons that fire together, stay together’ – it’s a bit of a ‘lovey dovey’ way of putting it but is nonetheless true, as is the old saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.

But just exercising isn’t enough…

“Reaching your potential is about being in a constant state of discomfort. The only reason that we feel uncomfortable is because it is new – nothing more, nothing less” – Araceli Camargo, Cognitive Neuroscientist

If you can get really comfortable with the uncomfortable, you’ve set yourself the perfect foundation for living the life of ‘The Art of Possible’. Your first step towards breaking out of your comfort zone and into the exciting world of possibilities is to create the new habit of doing something new and different every day.

Incidentally, your genuine discomfort actually lies within your comfort zone. We often start thinking about our ‘comfort zone’ precisely because we are thinking about something new, which causes us a certain amount of discomfort. Yet once we recognise our discomfort as a welcome signal which alerts us to the need to seek out new information, we can see it as a route into the exciting world of possibilities. If your day is not going to plan and you metaphorically fancy climbing back under the proverbial duvet, chances are the comfort zone will no longer feel as comfortable.

Discomfort is likely to be niggling there as you may have started to suspect that you’re missing something interesting or exciting. Better to crack on with a plan and take an action. Acquiring a new habit need not be particularly ambitious; it could be as straightforward as reading or listening to something that you wouldn’t ordinarily choose.

For example, immerse yourself in a topic about which you know nothing, be it recent scientific discoveries or gardening. Or you could simply decide to listen to a different style of music for a change, turning from Reggae to Classical music or from R&B to World Beats. Or make the decision to open a conversation with a work colleague who you haven’t spoken with before, or visit an art exhibition or museum that you’ve never previously considered, or just take a different route to work.

The driving force behind your decisions should be that you’ve consciously decided to move away from your old, well-worn and frankly uninspiring habits and into the new exciting world of the unexplored. The novelty and difference presented by new experiences will immediately get your brain firing on all cylinders.

Our brains continually search for the information that we already have; an easy, effective and of course very efficient way of going about things, but when we give them something unfamiliar to explore, they will work hard trying to process this new information and make new connections. Brainwork of this kind involves creating and strengthening new neural pathways and creating new neurons, both of which fuel and power our ability to reach our potential.

Extract by Kate Tojeiro, author of: The Art of Possible – new habits, neuroscience and the power of deliberate action. Priced £16.99 hardback and £8.99 Kindle and eBook.