Routines. They feel safe and comfortable like your favorite pair of cozy slippers or sweatpants. Basic morning and bedtime routines have a place in our lives and can support healthy habits, productivity and efficiency. . . BUT, you can get too comfortable with your routines and stop being fully present. Let’s be honest, your routines can allow you to think less and go on auto-pilot. How many times have you driven somewhere (work, the grocery store or your child’s school) without thinking about it?
We “check out” – no major brain power needed!
You drive your same routes around town, sit at the same desk in the same chair, shop at the same grocery store, go to the gym at your usual time, do the same workout, do your crosswords, go to the same hairdresser . . . . The list goes on and on.
How does that support the growth of neural (brain) connections and building new connections?
Why would the brain need to grow when you do practically the same thing every day.
Research indicates that normal brain changes start in the late 30s and 40s. The formation of brain cells and neural connections slow as we age and brain cell death gradually increases. Our grey and white matter tissue also loses density (shrinks). This is not the part of my body I want shrinking and we can slow this down.
I think our established routines are a contributing factor. We have followed established routines for years and do a lot of the SAME things. Do you ever feel like you are in a rut? Have you noticed that you socialize less, or don’t go to concerts or art galleries like you used to or you talk about going to workshops or classes or volunteering but rarely do any of these?
As a cognitive therapist and life coach recommendation is to mix it up a bit and support the brain in making new connections! You can also create new brain cells. Being a parent or pet owner provides opportunities for varied cognitive stimulation, so play games, go to different parks to walk or run, allow yourself to jump into an art project or be part of imaginative play with your child, grandchild or pet.
Try one or more of these 10 ways to stimulate your brain by mixing things up a bit:
- Attend an exercise class or go to a class with a different instructor
- Make a new recipe or eat at a new restaurant
- Find a new driving route to work or school OR you could bike, run or take the bus
- Move the artwork or furniture around in your house or office
- Switch perfume, shampoo or other topical products (your skin & hair benefit from change too)
- Sit in a new chair at your desk (one that feels good), maybe sit on an exercise ball for 15 minutes a day
- Hike a new trail, bike, ride or run/walk a different route
- Take a trip to a new destination
- Buy a new card game or board game (and play it)
- Shop at a different grocery store (this one always throws me for a loop)
Remember that a little cognitive discomfort can be a good thing. My Mom mentioned that she must be a “lost cause” after having a very hard time brushing her teeth with her non-dominant hand. She had not tried it again. I realized that I needed to explain that new tasks will get easier each time you do them. Don’t give up when you run into challenges! It means that you are stimulating your brain and building new neural connections. The more you practice a new skill or task, the easier it will become. Shifts and changes in our routines are good for all of us.
Bottom-line: Keep Your Brain Fit, Focused & Fabulous by re-evaluating your routines and doing something new!