Sometimes you probably have the feeling you are in desperate need of a vacation, or at least some time off. You feel like your brain needs a temporary break from your daily routine to be able to get productive again. To get this temporary break you don’t necessarily need to go on vacation. To recharge your brain you can also learn something new!
Science has discovered that the brain is a fickle creature: it not only continues to grow through adulthood, it likes new and shiny things. By giving your brain new experiences or activities to learn, you’ll be energizing it with similar effects to meditation or a restful break from the stressful, stuck situation you find yourself in when routine goes wrong (Ryder, 2018).
So if you can’t squeeze a beach getaway into your plans this week, keep reading for some ways to give your brain a vacation without packing your suitcase.
The brain has billions of neuropathways that it uses to accomplish things. Some pathways are used more than others. The more you rely on the existing pathways to go about your life, the less you tend to explore others. Just like a walk in the fresh air feels restful after sitting in a hot office, without treading new mental ground your brain doesn’t get a chance to stretch its muscles, both figuratively and literally.
Neuroplasticity (also called neural plasticity or brain plasticity) is the capacity of the brain to evolve and change throughout an individual’s life. It is adaptable and can be molded, like plastic. In fact, every time you learn something new that subsequently changes the way you think or do something, you are using the power of neuroplasticity:
So, Neuroplasticity makes your brain change in all kind of ways, because of the new things you learn in life. But how does this help you to give your brain a break?
The secret to recharge your brain is Novelty. According to psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang, a brain will make the most of a rest or vacation when it experiences something new. With new sights, sounds, smells, and activities, you’re helping your brain explore and energize with new pathways. And while you’re busy carving out new pathways at that live-edge wood carving class, your brain can rest and recalibrate.
Think of it like rerouting traffic from all those other busy pathways you use most often in your daily life. With a break from busy activity, they’ll be fresh and ready for the next rush hour!
There are a couple parameters that should help qualify an activity for positive neuroplasticity purposes:
- Is the new activity different enough from your everyday to make you feel like you’ve really stepped out of your comfort zone and taken in a new perspective?
For example, if you’re working with data on a computer all day, you might take up painting, dodgeball, or woodworking. All of these activities require a different type of creativity, logic, and physical skill than typing and thinking with numbers.
- Is the new activity fun for you?
Everyone handles stress differently, so this is a very personal question. At a very basic level, your brain will react to unwanted stress in negative ways. Anything that can enjoyably give you a new perspective is a vacation—anything new that causes stress or wears down your energy levels isn’t giving your brain time to play and feel refreshed from novel experiences.
- Can you make real time for this new activity in the long run? And will you?
Author Michael Merzenich is a leading brain plasticity researcher who explores the topic in his book, Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, and shows that, at first, any changes are temporary. Your brain will only take in the change permanently if it finds the experience to be novel or interesting enough, or the outcome to be important enough (good or bad) to be worth remembering. So if you love how you feel as a portrait painter, you may want to make it part of your long-term plans.
Here are some other tips for keeping up the motivation to mold your brain with novelty:
- Make a checklist of topics or activities you’ve always wanted to try, and break them out into weekly or monthly lists. (Learn to play the Piano for example 😉 )
- Then take action to schedule time in your calendar to disconnect from regular life and engage in the new activity.
- When you accomplish that time for that activity, check it off on your list. Setting and achieving small goals releases dopamine, a feel-good hormone that will leave you eager to try that successful pathway again.
It’s important to go on that beach vacation eventually, but in the meantime, you can start learning the local language or weaving a new sunhat to help combat those daily productivity doldrums.
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Ryder, L. (2018, 30 maart). How To Give Your Brain A Break Without Booking Vacation Days. Geraadpleegd op 6 april 2018, van https://blog.trello.com/neuroplasticity-tips-for-how-to-give-your-brain-a-break
Sentis. (2016). Brain animations make big impact. Geraadpleegd op 6 april 2018, van http://www.sentis.com.au/brain-animations-make-big-impact/