There are many books on the market that focus on treating the brain like any other organ of the body. To improve the brain, they advise eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and avoiding toxins like alcohol and nicotine.
These are sound bits of advice, but in my own book, “Super Brain,” written with professor Rudolph Tanzi of Harvard Medical School, the emphasis is on the brain’s uniqueness. The secret to improving your brain is to understand that uniqueness.
The brain is the only organ that changes instantly according to how the mind relates to it. You can relate to your brain in positive or negative ways, and depending on which one you choose, your brain cells, neural pathways and areas of high and low activity will be altered.
In short, thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it. (Other organs of the body also respond to positive and negative thinking, but their response must come through the brain first; it functions as command central for the rest of the body.)
The best way to relate to your brain is to inspire it; the worst way is to ignore it. Since the brain embraces every thought, word and deed, the list of things under each heading is long but very much worth attending to. See which of the following applies to you.
How to inspire your brain
Take care of stress. Avoid dulling routine. Do something creative every day. Read poetry, spiritual material or anything else that makes you feel uplifted. Take time to be in nature. Bond with another person who is heartwarming. Pay attention to being happy. Make sure you take time every day by yourself to relax, meditate and self-reflect. Deal with negative emotions like anger and anxiety. Focus on activity that makes you feel fulfilled. Give of yourself. Follow a personal vision. Attach yourself to a cause that is bigger than you are. Take the risk to love and be loved.
How to ignore your brain
Get set in your ways. Don’t look beyond your opinions, likes and dislikes. Isolate yourself from others. Take relationships for granted. Reconcile yourself to going downhill as you age. Look upon the past as the best time of your life. Forget about having ideals. Act on selfish impulses. Don’t examine what makes you tick. Give in to anger and anxiety. Let life take care of itself. Go along to get along. Assume that you are automatically right. Avoid anything new or challenging. Put up with stress. Take no emotional risks. Distract yourself with mindless diversions like watching sports for hours on end.
The difference between these two lists is pretty stark. In one case, you are approaching the brain as if it had great untapped potential. In the other, you assume that the brain runs on automatic pilot.
It is undeniable that the brain is endlessly adaptable. It turns into whatever you expect it to be. So how you relate to your brain is never passive; you are always instructing it to function in a certain way. Thus the whole package of beliefs, expectations, likes and dislikes that you hold inside are creating change — or blocking it — at the level of brain circuitry.
Needless to say, it’s better to inspire your brain than to ignore it. Potential is a terrible thing to waste.
The first step in forming a better relationship with your brain is to realize that you have a relationship. Once you realize this, you can choose to pay attention to the relationship and nurture it. You are in on a secret that escapes countless people. Take advantage of it.
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