It turns out that the brain needs to be challenged in order to operate more effectively; not just the consciousness parts of the brain but the entire thing. If stimulated correctly, repeatedly and for a period of time, it will begin to adjust its functioning to improve the quality of operating and this will have a dramatic impact on all parts of the body.
For the last number of years I have been engaging my clients and friends in a particular fashion which helps to facilitate these changes. I have done this not because I knew it was helping them but because I personally find it to be a better way to engage the world. The goal is to feel better, think more effectively, and feel more connected to others. By boosting resilience in 4 areas, you will not only improve these things but you will actual live longer.
The four key areas are:
- Physical resilience – you need to move. It doesn’t need to be intense physical activity, but sitting or lying around without moving do nothing positive for the body or brain. Exercise teaches you brain that you behaviors matter. Moving will increase your ability to handle stress and recover from illness.
- Mental resilience – you need to think about problems and increase your ability to concentrate and focus your attention. Doing this will alter the physical make-up of your brain – increasing the complexity of the interconnection between the neurons – and it will allow you to solve problems more effectively which will boost productivity and potentially lower stress.
- Emotional resilience – you need to be able to find reasons to be happy or grateful. Happy people are sick less frequently, they have lower rates for illness and their stress response is shorter lived than their bitter or sad counter parts. Finding reasons to be happy is self reinforcing – it is rewarding from a chemical point of view – feel good neurotransmitters are released – and once it becomes a habit, you’ll find more and more reason to feel happy. This alone is well worth the effort taken to get good at it.
- Social resilience – you need to be able to see yourself as part of something bigger than just your own body. Those who feel connected to other people tend to be happier and experience stress less severely. A sense of gratitude is a perfect way to increase social resilience, physical touch is even better. Those who shake hands or hug others have an enhanced chemical response that increases feelings of openness and trust.
What does this all mean?
Well, on the simplest level, a better life is fairly easy to achieve but it may require some new behaviors and the creation of some new habits. If you are the type of person who doesn’t feel comfortable touching others or being open about gratitude, the social resilience aspect of having a better life may present a challenge to you, but in my experience, people don’t mind being thanked or hearing genuine expressions of positive emotion.
Realize that all of these are well within your grasp. You have been moving all of your life, so why not add in a little more if you notice you have been sluggish recently. Solving problems and challenging yourself mentally will cause the release of reward neurotransmitters which will feel good; the brain does this automatically if you just focus on a problem.
The tough one is the emotional resilience. We’re programmed to be fearful, so finding reason to NOT be scared doesn’t come naturally. But it’s a problem to be solved, and if you use this as one of the tasks to improve mental resilience your brain will be clearing off two items at once!