It was once thought that the human brain stopped developing at the end of adolescence, but our brains continue to grow and change all the way through adulthood. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to learn, change and adapt according to life experiences. It is how our brain reorganises itself when we learn or memorise something new, or necessary, existing connections are strengthened, or fade in strength. In addition, cortical remapping, where every part of the body is connected to an area in the brain, is systematically adjusted on a constant basis.
When patterns and tasks become repetitive or the norm, we can start to make assumptions and become complacent which in turn can feed our unconscious bias. Stagnation can have a detrimental effect on working relationships, creativity, team spirit, decision making, mental health and productivity.
Conversely understanding and exercising neuroplasticity can optimise your brain’s function allowing you to harness your full potential at work, enable you to add new skills, make you more emotionally intelligent and a better communicator. Engaging in new activities ultimately strengthens connections in the brain and increases your neuroplasticity.
How to increase Neuroplasticity
- Keep learning – The process of learning is what keeps your brain stimulated and promotes neuroplasticity. Learning for the brain is like exercise for the body. Think of something you would like to learn and make sure that there is intention and purpose behind this idea so that you will fully commit to it and enjoy!
- Training – Taking part in relevant new training courses can help exercise your brain and aid development. Even an ice-breaker before a meeting starts will help brain plasticity, such as mnemonic drills like making the team write with their opposite hand.
- Cross Training/ Role Reversal – Swapping job roles for a day makes you appreciate what tasks your colleagues are faced with and decisions they make, forces you to problem solve, encourages ongoing learning, breaks down prejudices and assumptions, and helps you see the value in what each other does.
- Share ideas – At team meetings encourage all members to share ideas and where appropriate give positive comments and praise. Praise raises levels of serotonin (a feel-good neurotransmitter) to the recipient and often encourages them to be productive, have a greater desire to do well and learn more, thereby increasing neuroplasticity.
- Create new habits – Learn new habits or do things out of the ordinary like running backwards for 20m. Long term habits establish deep neural pathways, which are behaviours that operate below conscious awareness, so the best way to break old habits is to bring them to conscious awareness and replace by trying new things that you wish to repeat. Even the process of learning a new word every day promotes positive brain rewiring through the creation of an array of auditory and visual neural pathways.
- Reduce stress – Take time away from work and allow your brain to wind down. Neuroplasticity needs downtime too. Create some clear work-life boundaries and stick to them, such as not checking your emails once you’ve clocked off. Congratulate yourself and your team on a good day, celebrate the small wins.
- Sleep – Sleep has a profound impact on your neurological performance since it is essentially food for the brain. As our bodies are resting, our brains stay highly active processing emotions, memories and replenishing our minds for the next day. Having enough good quality sleep is essential for our brains to establish new neural pathways. Neuroplasticity is particularly increased during REM sleep and is associated with better learning and task performance.
- Exercise – Exercise enhances brain health by stimulating the growth of new connections between cells and strengthening existing connections in cortical areas of the brain, as well as increases oxygen, blood flow and cell growth in the brain.
- Good diet – Even though it is only a small organ in relation to other organs, your brain consumes 25% of the energy from everything you eat. Having a healthy and varied diet is a fundamental for a healthy active brain so ensure you eat enough omega 3, vitamin D and magnesium which are especially beneficial. Enjoy a touch of dark chocolate, and nuts and seeds for snacks.
- Try mindfulness exercises – Mindfulness activities like meditation and gratitude promote neuroplasticity and the formation of new neural pathways in the brain. It is also beneficial to practice mindfulness in business, as it encourages users to approach challenges with a sense of calm and understanding.