From tackling a crossword puzzle to learning a new language, there’s a whole host of benefits that come from stepping out of your comfort zone.
There are many things in our lives we do on autopilot. Our brains and bodies are efficient machines that constantly and naturally seek ways to conserve energy and effort without us even trying. The more we do something, the more embedded a habit becomes in our bodies and brains. If you have ever tried to form or change a habit, you know how maddening or empowering that force of routine can be.
Dr. Caroline Leaf is an author, Ted Talk speaker, and a cognitive neuroscientist who has spent most of her professional life studying the mind-brain connection and how we can harness the brain’s abilities to improve our lives.
“Change is the greatest teacher, and being uncomfortable is the best way to challenge your body and your brain,” she says. “Our brains are constantly working. On the conscious level, we see actions 40 times per second. On the non-conscious level, we see 400 billion actions per second.” That means that our unconscious habits can (and often do) take over our conscious work.If we don’t challenge ourselves, we can’t grow and develop in any number of ways.
Neuroplasticity is the way in which our brains develop, change, and grow, based on both external experiences and internalization of those experiences, as well as our biological makeup and our learning. Your brain is made up of multiple tissues, blood vessels, and cells, but consists of two main types of tissues: gray matter and white matter. At its simplest level, grey matter largely controls physical movements and sensory activities. White matter is responsible for communicating between areas of the brain. Neuroplasticity generally refers to our ability to create new grey and white matter in our brains through learning and experience.
“Our brains are designed to be stimulated,” Dr. Leaf says. “We create new brain nerve cells every night and wake up with tons in the morning. Using your mind to build your brain is the best thing you can do for your neuroplasticity. You have a whole lot of new baby nerve cells in the morning. We are supposed to be learning new things every day, and every moment is a new experience. As we respond to whatever is going on in the environment, we change the structure of the brain and function at a higher level.”
Trying new things is good for you on multiple levels. Here’s how it can help you live a more fulfilled life.