Do you have a daily routine?
If you do, what does it look like?
Do you get up at the same time every day? Do you eat the same breakfast and maybe walk to work in the same direction, taking the same streets and stopping off to get the same coffee order from the same coffee shop on the way?
Likewise, when is the last time you broke that routine?
If you stepped out of it, how did it feel? Scary? A bit exciting, or maybe just a bit fresher than the norm?
On face value there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with having a routine. Routines can be helpful. They enable us get the mundane stuff done like completing simple work tasks, cleaning the house, getting the kids to school. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with having a routine per se, however, there may be benefit to shaking things up a bit.
Exercising your brain
Popular rhetoric often seems to focus more our physical well-being, that is diet and exercise.
Although this is clearly vital to our overall health and functioning, what is often overlooked is our need to also exercise and take care of our brains.
After all, like any other part of our body, our brains are organs that need a daily dose of activity in order to function, keep us healthy and work for us into our old age.
Working on auto-pilot and living out the same daily routines essentially means that our brain is running along the same neural pathways or 'schemas' it’s learnt to work over time.
When we do this we are doing very little to expand or work our brains in any way. This is why an on-going routine, so actions which require no thought or conscious processing, fail to adequately exercise our brains and do little for enhancing its capacity or function.
This is why breaking your routine is such a good place to start
Choosing to do things that break your routine and therefore ‘challenge’ your brain, don’t require any specific psychology training, expensive treatments or memberships.
This is literally something you can start today and it can begin with you merely reflecting on the routines you currently hold.
When you look at these routines and patterns, can you think of ways that you can step out of them, make tweaks and start to do things a bit differently?
Think of it as keeping your brain on its toes if you will.
For example as we eluded to to at the very beginning of this article, could you decide to do something as simple as take different route to work every day?
You would be surprised how impactful this can be as your brain now has to think about the new journey, process new information en route and figure out where you fit into the environment. You may even find a new place to get that coffee and meet new people on the way.
Mindfulness techniques are also helpful in this process as you force your brain to notice and take in new things in the activities you are already undertaking, essentially breaking your routine of ‘mind-less-ness’ in that activity.
In this case, research which addressed mindfulness techniques via an 8 week course suggested that participants experienced significant changes in ‘gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking’.
All great for working your brain as well improving your mood and feelings of well-being.
Other things you can do...
There are of course other things you can do ‘break your routine’ that are arguably a bit more interesting.
Taking up a new activity like knitting, climbing, learning a new style of dance or picking up a new musical instrument are all great ways to challenge your brain and improve its function.
Learning another language is also a great thing that you can do to improve your function and mental capacity. Research shows that learning another language, even in later life, can be hugely beneficial to your brain, in particular your cognition.
Your aging brain
We sometimes forget that as we age, our brains age with us. We can’t look in the mirror and see this change like we can the wrinkles and bits of our bodies that could do with a little toning up.
One can only assume that if our brains were on the outside of our heads that we might take a bit more notice. Sadly, we usually wait for things to go awry before we address this.
In this case we often wait until we become a bit more forgetful or notice our processing becoming a little slower before jumping on the crossword band-wagon.
But the fact is that we don’t have to, nor should we wait for these signs before we attempt to work this precious organ.
Go out there and break your routines a little every day. Try new things, challenge yourself and embrace new adventures. You won't be disappointed by the results.
And if you still need that little extra nudge, take a moment to ponder the words of Paulo Coelho...’If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal’.
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