At one time, we thought the brain was just one thing. Now we know that the brain is more complicated and miraculous than ever.
You have parts of your brain that are automatic, controlling your basic functions. And you have some you can control. Others more or less lie dormant until we call on them. THOSE are the ones I find most interesting.
There’s an old saying about getting old: Use it or lose it. That refers to your body. You have to remain flexible, or you’ll stop being flexible. You have to keep walking or you’ll lose the ability to walk. You have to use your muscles or you’ll lose your muscles.
The brain works the same way. If you stop doing puzzles, a certain part of your brain basically shuts down. If you stop being artistic, another part shuts down. And on it goes for memory, attention, focus, etc. There’s new research that people who do a variety of interesting things can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
I recently wrote in my technology newsletter about attending conferences outside the field of technology. I love going to conferences for writers in particular because there’s so much creative energy in the room.
We all spend so much time in our businesses that we end up putting on blinders. We are super focused on the here and the now and the challenges. We are focused on the next payroll and the next marketing campaign.
Conferences put us in an environment where people are talking about other things. Writer conferences are particularly good because only a few people are talking about writing. Everyone else is talking about their book project. And those subjects are as varied as the book shelves at Barnes and Noble:
Science. History. Art. Biographies. Business. Cooking. Health. Lifestyles. Technology. Fiction. Travel. Science. Romance. Everything!
One reason I travel and attend so many conferences is to keep the creative part of my brain engaged. I refer to it as mixing up the mental DNA. I meet a variety of people and talk about hobbies, challenges, the tools they use, and the habits that contribute to their success.
One of the ways people get “stuck” in their personal and professional lives is that they stop doing a variety of things.
Really. It’s as simple as that.
Workaholism is the most visible example. People work and work and work. And then they work at night, on the weekends, and even while riding a bus or train. They don’t garden any more, or take a drive in the country.
Workaholics get obsessed with getting more and more done. They lose sight of the fact that the work will literally never be done. (And it shouldn’t be, because then you have to go get another job.)
When you stop having hobbies, painting fences, meeting new people, reading for fun, or gardening, you shut off pieces of your brain.
Workaholics aren’t the only ones. Some people get completely obsessed with cleaning or knitting or bingo. Whatever it is, they do that one thing all the time and stop doing other things.
A friend recently invited me to a local poker night at a bar. No actual money is at stake, but teams compete and move through a league similar to bowling. She was a little surprised that I said yes right away and jumped right into it. I’m not a big poker player, although I enjoy it. But it was something different to do.
I have another friend I call on to keep a level of weirdness in my life. About once a year I say, “Find us something different to do” – and it never fails. Last year is was superstar midget wrestling. This year, who knows?
But it will be a new thing for me. And I have a strong tendency to not do new things most of the time. So I’ve made a habit of saying yes to lots of stuff simply to include a variety of experiences in my week, month, and year.
What do you do to light up various parts of your brain? Remember: Use it or lose it!