Your personal brain health hinges on what you do each and every day. The ingredients in the recipe are basic: be active, be social, be engaged, and be purposeful. Today’s focus is Be Engaged.
Brain engagement is pretty simple – think about, sense, analyze what is happening, and the process just begins. All you really need to do to fire up the chemical and electrical systems in your brain that protect and nourish it is to start the process.
Thinking about a topic, item, task, feeling, plan, relationship, or whatever grabs your attention, will set in a motion a sequence of events that triggers a chemical release and that release sends messages to prompt more activity. Pull in more sensory data beyond what you see – sound, tastes, smells, temperature, texture – and you are activating/engaging more brain processes and fueling more activity.
One key to staying well balanced is to intentionally focus on processing different kinds of data – pay attention to all the sensory information, not just what you see. Vision is, for the vast majority, the primary sense. We get nearly 75% of our information about the world through sight.
Let’s try an exercise that illustrates the value of opening multiple sensory pathways in your brain.
Find a thick piece of material that will fit around your head, cover your eyes, and block out the light. Tie that across your eyes and close them so you are not trying to adapt to any visual images or zeroing in on changes in lighting.
Sit quietly and pay attention to all that is going on. This may be an uncomfortable feeling. Sit with it and just breathe.
As you are adjusting, think about what cues you are using. Think about what you are doing and what information is allowing you to understand your world, keep you safe, and get through the next moments.
When you cut off your primary sense, in most cases, you are cutting off your lifeline to the understanding the world. Chances are your brain was trying to create mental images and use visual cues. How long did it take you adapt and start using other senses.
Here is another way to think about this. Processing information works in very much same way as using the muscles in your body. You have to work in many directions in order to function at your best. Long distance runners train specific sets of muscles to withstand the rigors of the run. Even though that runner is, by most standards, in great physical condition, his body will be sore after a mountain climb or bike ride or day of dancing at a music festival if these are unfamiliar activities. He is using a whole different set of muscles – ones that he has not trained to be in prime condition. If you train your brain to try alternative routes and use other pieces of information to understand the world, in a crisis, when a pathway shuts down, you can then zig or zag as needed while limiting the strain and pain of doing something in an entirely different way.