Do you find that sometimes you have rigid thoughts in your head that you can’t seem to change, even if you really want to? I’ve been wondering about that recently…

Whilst on holiday in February this year I found an interesting article by Lee Griggs about riding a Backwards Brain Bike (ie where turning the handles has the opposite effect on the steering of the front wheel)!

Apparently, it’s a really, really hard thing to do, and it intrigued me as to why this was such a difficult thing to learn to do. I couldn’t find a link to the magazine article I read, but I found an entertaining video from Smarter Every Day about learning to ride a Backwards Brain Bike. Watch it and see how hard it is!

So, Lee also struggled originally to ride his backward bike. He says this is due to our automated thought patterns - we subconsciously rely on these to stay balanced. Why is this important. Well, Lee also likened this to the response many of us have in times when we come up against a tough situation - when negative self-talk or anxiety kicks in (without us asking it to) and it’s impossible to quieten our thoughts. If it’s possible to learn to ride a backwards brain bike then maybe, I thought, it’s possible to learn to control our response in tough situations.

In the article neuroplasticity was mentioned a few times. So after my holiday I decided to investigate what neuroplasticity actually is. I started with a dictionary definition: “the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury”. Quite complicated it seems…

But on a simple level neuroplasticity means that we are able to re-wire our brain so that we can overcome old thought processes. It may take us a while; it will involve some effort and it gets harder as we get older. (little hope for me then!)

I read another article (Thrive Global) and I learned that developing better neuroplasticity can be attained and can help us improve our mental well-being. So what should we do? There were 5 suggestions:

o   Get enough quality sleep (7-9hrs a day) …your brain needs sleep to reset brain connections that are important for memory and learning. ...

o   Reduce stress. ... if you can’t reduce the stresses around you, you can try to learn new ways to counter them eg meditation

o   Read a novel … reading fiction helps heighten connectivity in the brain, as well as helping you to relax!

o   Continue to learn new things (languages, musical instruments, practical skills, backward bikes etc) ... the brain benefits from learning in the same way your body benefits from exercise

o   Find a good reason for what you're planning to learn ... only do something that motivates you, so you are inspired and focused on achieving it

Overall it seems like this time in Covid-19 really is a good chance for many who are stuck in lockdown to do some of the above. We can help reshape our brains to establish better habits that will contribute to our overall health and well-being!

What new thing might you be inspired to learn in 2020?!

Amanda Maylin

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