We’re only two months into 2021, and we are being challenged to reset our expectations daily. Overall, as human beings, I’m encouraged and feel we’re doing a remarkable job adapting to our precarious circumstances. One of the primary reasons for this is due to neuro or brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change its response to internal or external variables based on changing conditions.
Some examples of brain plasticity are new learning, memory, and recovery. They have raised the level of adaptation we’ve needed to endure the pandemic. And it’s apparent we’ll need to rely on this genetic resource for at least another 6-12 months. We’re facing ominous challenges delivering an effective roll out of the vaccination program, which inevitably will delay a return to any semblance of normality in our lives.
Our best option to avoid fueling stress and anxiety about things we can’t control is to manage our expectations and continue to adapt to ever-changing circumstances without falling into despair. You can do this by shoring up your brain to allow for the most effective neuroplasticity response. I’ve identified five tips that can help you harness your brain power:
- Keep your brain active.
Fresh brain activity will help your brain stay alert, not just to changes in its immediate environment, but to external changes as well. A lazy brain is less capable of adapting to changes. You can keep your brain active by challenging yourself to complete an engaging activity like doing a crossword puzzle, brushing your teeth with the opposite hand, or learning a new skill.
2. Challenge your negativity bias.
If you begin a negative spiral based on the past year, and forecast that negativity into the future, stop yourself! Keep your brain adapting and learning from the silver linings that you experienced. Reflect on the strengths you developed, like your improved coping, problem solving, family relationships, and balance. Train your brain to build on these positive outcomes instead of focusing on the negative.
3. Establish long-term goals.
Commit to making plans. Begin by setting a course for constructing short-term tasks to accomplish long-term goals. Goals that you can accomplish once the opportunity is ripe. This forward thinking will keep your brain in a learning phase. If the pandemic has short-circuited your long-term goals, don’t stress about it. Stay focused on planning.
4. Picture the future.
Help your brain adapt to the changing times by altering your lens to imagine what you hope the next few years will look like. Visualize yourself enjoying socializing with friends and family. Create favorable scenarios about your work or school life. Fantasize about an idyllic vacation you’ve always wanted. Mentally manifesting your future can be hopeful and empowering. It will spur your brain to create the possibility of fresh memories.
5. Keep your brain healthy.
The healthier your brain is, the more equipped it is to optimize rewiring efficiently. You need to rest, feed and restore your brain for it to function optimally. That requires paying close attention to sleep hygiene, sleep/wake patterns, and healthy eating and exercise regimes.
Adaptation, partly through genetic brain plasticity, has gotten us this far. Prime your brain for the last leg of this disruptive journey. Along the way, you will learn new skills, skills that you can use once the pandemic has ended. Take care of your brain, and it will help you make it through.
“Brain Plasticity and Behavior,” written by Bryan Kolb,1 Robbin Gibb, and Terry Robinson Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada (B.K., RG.), and Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan (T.R.), https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/cd/12_1/Kolb.