Understanding and exercising neuroplasticity allows you to harness your full potential at work, explains Dr Lynda Shaw
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to learn, change and adapt according to life experiences. It is how our brain reorganises itself. When we learn or memorise something new, or necessary, existing connections are strengthened, or fade in strength.
Understanding and exercising neuroplasticity can optimise your brain’s function, allowing you to harness your full potential at work, add new skills, and become more emotionally intelligent and a better communicator. Engaging in new activities ultimately strengthens connections in the brain and increases your neuroplasticity.
How to Increase Your Neuroplasticity at Work
The process of learning is what keeps your brain stimulated and promotes neuroplasticity. Learning for the brain is like exercise for the body. Think of something you would like to learn and make sure that there is intention and purpose behind this idea so that you will fully commit to it and enjoy!
Taking part in relevant new training courses can help exercise your brain and aid development. Even an icebreaker before a meeting starts, such as mnemonic drills (like making the team write with their opposite hand), will help brain plasticity.
Try cross-training/role reversal
Swapping job roles for a day makes you appreciate the tasks your colleagues are faced with and the decisions they make, forces you to problem-solve, encourages ongoing learning, breaks down prejudices and assumptions, and helps you see the value in what your co-workers do.
At team meetings, encourage all members to share ideas and, where appropriate, give positive comments and praise. Praise raises levels of serotonin (a feel-good neurotransmitter) in the recipient and often encourages them to be more productive and have a greater desire to do well and learn more, thereby increasing neuroplasticity.
Create new habits
Long-term habits establish deep neural pathways, which are behaviours that operate below conscious awareness, so the best way to break old habits is to bring them to conscious awareness and replace them by trying new things that you wish to repeat. Even the process of learning a new word every day promotes positive brain rewiring through the creation of an array of auditory and visual neural pathways.
Take time away from work and allow your brain to wind down. Neuroplasticity needs downtime too. Create some clear work-life boundaries and stick to them. Congratulate yourself and your team on a good day; celebrate the small wins.
Sleep has a profound impact on your neurological performance since it is essentially food for the brain. As our bodies are resting, our brains stay highly active, processing emotions and memories and replenishing our minds for the next day. Having enough good quality sleep is essential for our brains to establish new neural pathways. Neuroplasticity is particularly increased during REM sleep and is associated with better learning and task performance.
Exercise enhances brain health by stimulating the growth of new connections between cells and strengthening existing connections in cortical areas of the brain, as well as increasing oxygen, blood flow and cell growth in the brain.
Maintain a good diet
Even though it is only a small organ in relation to your other organs, your brain consumes 25% of the energy from everything you eat. Having a healthy and varied diet is fundamental for a healthy, active brain, so ensure you eat enough omega 3, vitamin D and magnesium, which are especially beneficial. Enjoy a touch of dark chocolate, nuts and seeds for snacks.
Try mindfulness exercises
Mindfulness activities like meditation and gratitude promote neuroplasticity and the formation of new neural pathways in the brain. It is also beneficial to practice mindfulness in business, as it encourages users to approach challenges with a sense of calm and understanding.