It’s all about the dendrites….
In a busy and unpredictable world, routine is so comforting. You feel like you are giving your brain a well-deserved rest when you go onto autopilot, but actually it is slowly wasting away. You can spend entire days without truly thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it, and your brain starts to suffer as a direct result.
When you do something differently or learn something new, your brain begins to create new neural pathways. Contrary to common belief, certain parts of your brain retain the ability to develop as you get older. Whenever you have a new experience, the dendrites (antennae that extend from your neurons) grow and facilitate faster and smoother neural communication. The more dendrites you have, the more effective your brainpower.
However, you have to use these pathways regularly, or they can become inactive and dissipate. The shortening of the dendritic branches and reduction of the number of branches is associated with senility in the elderly. When you use the same pathways over an over again, the rest of your brain (which used to take on all the complex learning of your youth) starts a terminal decline.
Do you wonder why it is harder to pick up new things as you get older? The simple explanation is that you haven’t made it a habit – your brain has forgotten how to do it and it will now take a monumental effort to get those neurons firing again.
I am not suggesting that you have to live like a creative genius, but even the smallest changes in your routine can make a difference to the health of your brain. Maybe you might walk a different way to work. You could read a book for lunch rather than message your friends. You could write a letter to your partner during a coffee break – why don’t we do that more? Maybe you could have a “walking meeting” instead of the usual stuffy meeting room?
Anything that jolts you out of your usual rhythm will do the job nicely.
I sometimes feel that I am set in my ways about certain things, but I am sure that I am not alone. As I sit at my desk in the morning planning my day, my brain is screaming “stimulate me, stimulate me” – I should maybe listen to it a bit more.
The world offers so much stimulation that much of it passes by us unnoticed. We are in our own little bubble, head down and marching on, set on our narrow pre-determined paths. The challenge that I set myself (and that I suggest to others) is to try and make that little bit of an impact on the world every day, in a slightly different way than before. You never know what will come of it.
Amazing things rarely happen from routine. Anything is possible when you step into a different place. Take a few small steps, try it, you never know where it might lead.