You ever see that movie Limitless where Bradley Cooper takes a magic pill to become insanely smarter which makes him wildly successful? Even if you haven’t, that’s basically the summary of the movie – without spoilers I swear! But seriously, how awesome does that sound? The great news is that you do have the ability to become smarter and grow your brain. Unfortunately for all of us lazy people out there, the solution isn’t a magic pill, it’s increasing neuroplasticity.
So What Does Neuroplasticity Mean?
Although the name sounds really scientific, neuroplasticity is relatively simple to understand. It is the brain’s ability to form new neural connections. This happens when your brain is repairing itself from an injury or responding to new situations or environments. You brain literally has the ability to grow.
Now I’m not saying that you need to suffer from a brain injury to get your brain to start growing. The focus here is the new situations or environments part.
Growing Your Brain
Although the brain isn’t technically a muscle, you should treat it like one. If you want to get strong, you have to challenge your muscles. If you want to grow your brain, you have to challenge it too.
When I first learned about neuroplasticity, I took a look at what I do on a day to day basis to see what might be considered a brain workout. As embarrassing as it is to say, the truth is that I wasn’t challenging my brain at all. I showed up to work where I wasn’t being very challenged, then I would go home and veg-out while binge watching a show. On the weekends, I would do chores around the apartment or party with my friends. My brain taking it easy. Take a look at your day to day activities, are you stimulating your brain enough?
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10 Ways to Grow Your Brain
Now the part your were looking for. These are all scientifically proven ways to grow your brain.
1. Be Aware
Paying attention to your failings and frustrations when trying something out. If an activity is challenging, then your brain is benefiting.
2. Get Some ZZZs
Getting good sleep can improve your health in more ways than growing your brain. However, the brain is the focus today. Studies from NYU show that sleep helps learning retention. It encourages the growth of dendritic spines, which are tiny protrusions that connect brain cells to one another and facilitate the passage of information across synapses
3. Take a Trip
You don’t have to tell me twice to travel more but I’ll take more reasons to. Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh states that “when you expose your brain to an environment that’s novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts,”. Those new and challenging situations cause the brain to sprout dendrites (those little guys mentioned in #2).
4. Make Music
Neuroscientists have found that playing an instrument promotes brain plasticity over a person’s lifespan. Just make sure to ask your roommates befors you decide to start playing the drums.
5. Read Fiction
Researchers at Emory University have found that after reading the same fiction novel, participants showed increased and ongoing connectivity in the brains. Their brains were still stimulated after they were done! If you’re looking for some recommendations, some of my recent favorites are Exit West, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Huge, and Rich People Problems.
6. Get in Touch With Your Artsy Side
Participants in a study showed enhanced connectivity of the brain at a resting state after taking a 10 week art course. This resting state called the “default mode network” (DMN) influences mental processes such as introspection, memory, and empathy. Creating art also strengthens the neural pathway that controls attention and focus.
I’m not the most artsy person so right now I’m obsessed with adult coloring books (there’s even super cute adult colored pencils now with way better colors than back in the day) and paint by numbers. So even us non-artsy people can benefit.
7. Get on Your Dancing Shoes
Researchers at Stanford, have found that dancing increases neural connectivity because it forces you to integrate several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional. What was most surprising about the research was that frequent dancing was the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia. Dancing was even better at warding off Dementia and Alzheimers than doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week. Looks like I’ll have to dust off my awkward two step.
8. Brush Off Your Old SAT Skills
Expanding your vocabulary not only improves long term memory but also activates the brain’s visual and auditory processing. Don’t feel like reading the dictionary? Learning a new language counts too!
9. Eat The Whole Egg
As tempting as it may be to only eat eggs whites, egg yolks are packed with choline. This is needed to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Organ meats are also packed with choline but I’m assuming most of your would prefer eggs over liver.
10. Psilocybin (only legally)
This is definitely the most controversial one but I wouldn’t mention it unless I had legitimate sources to back it up. Research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which is part of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), shows that it reduces reactivity (negative plasticity) in the amygdala and improves well being (positive plasticity). Other research also shows that psilocybin’s enhancement of neuroplasticity explains why it reduces depression and reduces conditioned fear.
Psilocybin is currently illegal in the United States. If you are in a country where psilocybin is legal to take, do so with an experience guide or clinician and only buy from legitimate sources. For a source on the current legal status of psilocybin by country, click here.
Don’t take this list is the final say in what you can do to grow your brain. As long as you are doing something that is challenging and out of the ordinary for your brain, you are increasing neuroplasticity. Also, please don’t waste your money on expensive brain games. You can find much cheaper ways to increase neuroplasticity.