Like most people, I am comfortable when in my usual habitat. I run errands at the same stores, often on the same day of the week. This week I found myself making excuses to avoid going to a different shopping centre though it would be more convenient and faster, and I realised just how ingrained these habits have become. So for today’s challenge I pushed myself physically out of my comfort zone. I decided to consciously do it differently.
I was surprised by how uncomfortable this experience was! I found myself searching for excuses to drive an extra 10 minutes out of my way to go to my usual bank branch. The best reason I came up with was that I didn’t like “the vibe” in the area I had chosen to attend. And indeed I was in a hyper-vigilant state walking from my car to the branch. After finishing my transaction I stood inside the doors planning the “safest” way to walk back to my car via the library and other shops. Despite being unable to see any threat whatsoever, I remained on edge until I was securely back in my car.
Why was this an important challenge?
As the study of neuroplasticity continues across the fields of psychology and the medical sciences, more evidence is emerging of the benefits of undertaking novel experiences. These include doing things differently from your normal routine, whether it is driving a different route to work, changing the cutlery around in the drawer, or taking up a new hobby. Any time you make efforts to do things consciously different, it encourages your brain to make new connections. With repeated efforts these new connections strengthen, and can be used if the old connections are damaged. With the increasing prevalence of dementia and age-related mental degenerative diseases in most countries, using “brain exercises” is becoming more important. Acting outside of your routines can be a simple way to keep your brain young and fit!
My brain is pretty precious to me, and the fact that I found this exercise so uncomfortable is proof that I need to do it more often :).
For today, the benefits were simple: I got everything done faster, more efficiently, and with less travelling time than usual. For more long term benefits I will need to keep testing my tolerance for novelty!
[For a great starting place to learn about improving your brain health, the Brain Foundation has a handy guide which includes some brain game booklets and other information. Click here to learn more.]