Do you remember being a child and doing or seeing something that you’d never done or seen before? This event shook you, even possibly blew your mind. And opened up doors inside of you that you didn’t know existed.
When was the last time you experienced something new for the first time as an adult? When was the last time you did so willingly? Even excitedly? What if I told you that doing new things for the first time is actually a powerful brain exercise? In a similar fashion that yoga stretches the body, exposure to new experiences stretches the mind. It’s called neuro-plasticity and it’s a result of the brain’s ability to change and adapt based on new experiences.
Our brains are wired for survival, care and connection. Once basic needs are met, the brain is open for new input. Our brains and central nervous systems are always turned on to exposure, even when we aren’t consciously intaking input. What if the brain is experiencing the exact same exposures day after day? The same sounds, smells, tastes, colors, interactions?
Think of our bodies, what if we only used the same three muscles everyday? Those three muscles would get used to usage, while the others would atrophy and deteriorate. When it came time to lift something heavy, we wouldn’t be able to due to the weakness of the rest of our muscles.
Our brains want to be exercised and stretched, just like our bodies. This flexibility comes in the form of introducing new exposure to the brain. Here are three ways to increase exposure to your brain:
The brain and the central nervous system are constantly interpreting our sensory experiences. A way to increase new exposure to the brain is to add new sensory experiences to your exposure. Here are some sensory examples:
Smell – find new candles, incense or essential oils in a smell that is different from what you typically use. Use it at different times and see how your brain and body react.
Sight – find a new art piece to put on your wall, or a fun new decoration to place around your home, at your desk or in your car. Be sure to change them up regularly enough that you are providing new experiences to the brain. Watch a different type of film that you don’t usually watch.
Taste – Go on a food journey! Try new recipes or go to different restaurants that you haven’t tried before. Enter with a curious mind and leave with a full belly.
Touch – Add new textures around your house. Find a silky robe, or a fuzzy rug next to your bed. Use your hands for gardening or doing work outside and feel the earth in your hands.
Sound – Ask some friends for new music recommendations and press play! Invite different types of sounds and instruments into your music listening experience. Or watch a foreign film with the characters speaking another language.
I am a huge advocate for travel as brain exercise. There is nothing quite like the sensory experience of being in a new place with new sights and smells and sounds. Especially including a cultural component to the travel experience will really be a workout for the brain. Take in as much with your senses as you can and enjoy finding new routines and habits during your travel experience.
Find something that you have always wanted to do, maybe something you enjoyed as a child or have thought would be cool to learn. Whether it’s to paint or to dance or to learn a new language or play an instrument, start by doing it. You can take courses or classes on it, you can join a group, but pick up a new skill and do it. Allow yourself to be new at it and to add it to your sensory experience. Once you’ve “mastered” the skill, add difficulty or move on to a new skill.
The brain wants to be stretched and strengthened just like the body. It wants to be ready for when life throws it a curveball and it needs to react quickly and swiftly. Exercising the brain as a daily practice will keep your mind sharp and will help you better navigate your life going forward.
California Associate Clinical Social Worker #ASW100012
Under supervision of:
Javanne Golob #77915
San Francisco, California
I am a clinical therapist specializing in providing personalized care for individuals seeking support in addressing their mental health concerns, including trauma and addiction.