You didn’t get an owner’s manual with your brain, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the circuit board you’ve got upstairs right now. In fact, your brain tomorrow will not be the same brain you have today. It might be more fit, or perhaps a little more out of shape. You get to decide which it is—and to determine how it influences how you prioritize, how you set expectations of yourself, how you motivate yourself, and how you get moving when you’re stuck.
We know more than ever about what goes on in the circuitry that makes our little gray cells hum. Experts used to think of the brain as a sophisticated machine, believing it was “hard-wired” and unchanging. Thanks to new brain imaging technologies, scientists can now track how thoughts and impulses move through the brain as electrical signals. It turns out our brain cells are organized more like points on a map than like cogs in a machine. Every day, our brains are busy laying down new mental pathways—sometimes superhighways—between those points. It causes actual, physical change. This is what we mean by “rewiring your brain.” Doing it intentionally is a sure-fire way to improve your quality of life.
In A Users’ Guide to the Brain, John Ratey says, “The brain is changing its connective patterns every second of our lives in response to everything we perceive, think, or do…. There are more possible ways to connect the brain’s neurons than there are atoms in the universe [and these] connections guide our bodies and behaviors, even as every thought and action we take physically modifies their patterns.”
Brain scans of concert violinists, for example, show significantly larger areas of the brain devoted to fine motor skills in the left hand—they have more wiring that facilitates their musical skills. Researchers also found that London taxi drivers have larger brain regions devoted to spatial memory and navigational skills than the rest of us have. As they expand their knowledge of London’s streets, they’re also expanding their own “mental streets.” What would you like to build new wiring for?
I taught myself to juggle a few years ago—three balls, in the air, same time. It seemed an impossible task. I had laughable hand-eye coordination. Toss me the car keys, they’d land in a snowbank and you wouldn’t find ’em till spring. Yet, with practice, I created new pathways and learned to juggle—and when I did, my hand-eye coordination improved as if by magic. I had grown new connections in my brain—no more car keys buried in a snowbank. “By viewing the brain as a muscle that can be weakened or strengthened, we can exercise our ability to determine who we become,” notes Ratey. It was great fun to become a juggler, even one with modest skills.
Your brain is constantly laying down new wiring. You can let it happen haphazardly—and not always for the best—or you can supercharge your brain, and tap into your natural motivation, by upgrading your wiring intentionally. Once you learn to do something you know to be impossible for you, a whole new world of possibility opens up. It’s the ultimate exercise of free will, and it will have a big impact on the expectations you set yourself and how you prioritize those expectations.
Think about the skills or habits you wish you had. Are you willing to make them your new reality by creating new wiring? The first step is to acknowledge that you really can rewire your brain. The second step is to identify what you care enough about that you will be inspired to take action. Finally, be willing to take action repeatedly until the skill becomes second nature or the habit takes root.
There! You’ve just supercharged your brain, not to mention your quality of life.
Check back in this space every so often. I’ll occasionally share specific tips on how to rewire your brain and supercharge your quality of life.