If you missed yesterday’s post explaining the neuroscience behind habit formation and the novelty response, click here to get up to speed. If you’re wondering how you can cultivate cognitive reserve in your most routine moments, you’re in the right place.
Mindful Habits or Mindless Routines?
When you first learned to drive, your brain was probably very engaged. This challenging task requires coordination between your eyes, hands, and feet in particular. You have to be aware of everything around you while also monitoring your speed and position on the road. However, over time driving becomes less of a challenge and you are eventually able to navigate all but the trickiest of roadways with only minimal engagement. This is great for your commute, but not so great for your brain.
The brain possesses an infinite capacity for mastering new skills and making them feel effortless. This is great, as it’s exactly what we need to establish healthy habits and effective routines. However, like an energetic child, it needs to be continually challenged or it can become bored and disengaged. The key is to strike the right balance between novelty and structure.
Turning Off Auto-Pilot
If you frequently can’t remember whether you took your morning supplements or arrive at work with little recollection of the drive there, your brain may be so bored by the day’s predictability that it has essentially shut off. When your routines have become mindless, you’re missing out on great opportunities to boost your brain throughout the day.
Try spicing things up by adding a small cognitive challenge to each routine task.
- Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. It’s harder than you’d think. It also forges novel connections in several parts of the brain.
- Shower with your eyes closed. You’ll use senses that are usually neglected and be more focused on the task.
- Spritz on a new scent. Our olfactory center is closely linked with memory formation.
- Try a different morning beverage – swap coffee for tea or sample a different blend. Take a minute to really savor the new flavor.
- Switch seats – at the dinner table, in the lunchroom or in a meeting. You’ll hear different conversations and see things from a different perspective, literally and figuratively.
- For one day, turn your photos upside down. Again, the change in perspective can spark your brain to work in new ways.
- Shop in a different grocery store. It might take a few minutes more, but your brain will be more engaged and open to new foods and discoveries.
- Read a section of the paper you usually skip. You’ll learn something new and spark your creative brain as those new ideas bump up against the old.
Now you know how you can change your everyday routines to better support your brain health, but what about that morning crossword puzzle? Is it possible it’s not as productive as you think? Check back tomorrow to find out more.
If you’re ready to learn more about the habits that support your brain health, click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.