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January 05, 2011

New Year, New Brain: Tips for Optimal Brain Function

The human brain is incredibly adaptive. Our mental capacity is huge and our ability to process a wide
variety of information and experiences with relative ease can often be surprising.

The brain’s ability to act and react in ever-changing ways is known, in the scientific community, as “neuroplasticity.” This special characteristic allows the brain’s estimated 100 billion nerve cells, also called neurons, to constantly lay down new communication pathways or rearrange existing ones throughout life. This aids the processes of learning, memory, and adaptation. Without neuroplasticity, our brains would not be able to memorize a new fact or master a new skill, form a new memory or adjust to a new environment; we would not be able to recover from brain injuries or overcome cognitive disabilities. Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, “old dogs” actually can learn learn new tricks of every conceivable kind.In short, neuroplasticity means you have some control over your mental fitness. Scientists used to believe that the brain was “fixed” after childhood and would start to decline in the middle to later years. Today, research is showing that the brain is perfectly capable of changing, healing and “rewiring” itself well into our life span. New groundbreaking research suggests that the human brain is even able to generate entirely new brain cells. While this was long believed to be impossible after the age of three or four, research now shows that new neurons can develop even into our 70’s and 80’s.

Use It or Lose It--Growing Older Can Make You Smarter.

If one’s brain is constantly challenged or engaged by a variety of stimulations and new experiences, it is better able to retain its adaptive “flexibility”, rebuilding capacity and remarkable efficiency throughout life. Scientists used to believe that the brain aged as cells died but new technology has shown we retain most of our brain cells over time. As we age, we might lose some memory or reaction time but there are also some net gains or improvements. As some of circuits may weaken over time, we compensate by using other parts of the brain. Ultimately, this means as we age, we actually use and strengthen MORE of our brains, not less.

Your Brain Learns By Doing.

Doing an action lays down nerve connections that fire again when you watch the same action. This accounts for the connection you feel when viewing a sport you’ve played, or why you wince when you see someone else get hurt. What is called the “mirror system” helps explain why learning a new skill is easier if you try doing it first, even clumsily, rather than hanging back watching your instructor or a video until you think you “have it.”

Thoughts Affect Your DNA.

We tend to think of our genetic heritage as our fate and that we’re left playing the hand of DNA we were dealt. However, our genes are open to being influenced throughout our lifetime, both by what we do and by what we think, feel and believe. Much like the impacts of diet, exercise and environmental toxins, various thought patterns have been shown to turn certain genes “on” or “off.” There is a strong relationship between thought and belief patterns and the expression of healingor disease-related genes. Your body “reads your mind” and the degree to which you can maintain your mental equilibrium has a real impact on your body’s ability to access your genetic resources.

Stress Ages Your Brain.

There’s always going to be stress but it’s the internal “suffering” that is the most damaging to the brain. Studies have shown that continuous stress can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus — a vital component to both stress regulation and longterm memory. To protect the brain from premature aging, you need to build stress disruptors into your regular routine: A five-minute period in the middle of every day during which you do absolutely NOTHING has been shown to not only increase productivity but also reduce stress and fatigue. And when anxiety does strike, a good way to initiate the relaxation response is the 4/5-breath routine: breathing in through the nose to a count of four, then out through the mouth to a count of five. Repeat it four times and you’ll feel the relaxation. Best of all, do the breaths twice daily, at the beginning and end of the day.

Meditation Rewires Your Brain.

Meditation and other forms of relaxation and mindfulness not only change your immediate state of mind but they also can alter the very structure of your brain. Positive emotions will strengthen your nerve communication network the same way working muscles strengthens them. If you routinely think about things that make you feel mad or upset, you will actually begin to respond more to negative experiences. You will become more reactive and get upset more easily in the future. By contrast, meditative practices stimulate the part of the brain’s “attention and awareness” centers. Best of all, meditation develops the circuitry in the left side of the brain that dampens negative emotion, so you don’t get so rattled by stress, anger, fear, shame or sorrow.

Upper Cervcal Care Optimizes Brain Function.

Studies continue to show that misalignmets in the upper cervical spine (upper neck) can disrupt brain function. A condition called “brain congestion” can occur when this problem persists unchecked. Adult and children alike should be checked for Upper Cervical Subluxations to make sure that they are operating at maximum capacity.

Apply The 20/80 Rule To Everything

80/20 ChartThe 80/20 Rule is one of the most helpful of all concepts of time and life management. It is also called the Pareto Principle after its founder, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who first wrote about it in 1895. Pareto observed that roughly twenty percent of the people of his country controlled or owned eighty percent of the wealth.

The Great Discovery

After Pareto made his observation and published his formula, many others (in both science and business) observed similar phenomena in their own areas of expertise. For example, this rule says that 20% of your activities will account for 80% of your results. 20% of your customers will account for 80% of your sales. 20% of your products or services will account for 80% of your profits. 20% of your tasks will account for 80% of the value of what you do, and so on. This means that if you have a list of ten items to do, two of those items will turn out to be worth as much or more than the other eight items put together.

The Greatest Payoff

Here is an interesting discovery. Each of these tasks may take the same amount of time to accomplish. But one or two of those tasks will contribute five or ten times the value as any of the others. Often, one item on a list of ten can be worth more than all the other nine items put together. This task is invariably the one that you should do first.

The Most Valuable Tasks

The most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex. But the payoff and rewards for completing these tasks efficiently can be tremendous. For this reason, you must adamantly refuse to work on tasks in the bottom 80% while you still have tasks in the top 20% left to complete. Before you begin work, always ask yourself, "Is this task in the top 20% of my activities?"

Getting Started

The hardest part of any important task is getting started. Once you actually begin , you seem to be naturally motivated to continue because there is a part of your mind that loves to be busy working on significant tasks. Your job is to feed this part of your mind continually.

Managing Your Life

Your ability to choose between the important and the unimportant tasks in your day is the key determinant of your success in life and work. Effective, productive people discipline themselves to start on the most important task that is before them and as a result, they accomplish vastly more than the average person.

Action Exercises

Make a list of all the key goals, activities, projects and responsibilities in your life today. Which of them are in the top 10% or 20% or could represent, 80% or 90% of your results? Make the decision today that you are going to spend MORE of your time working in those few areas that can really make a difference in you life and career, and LESS time on lower value activities.

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Question:

Dr. Ray, I am a former hockey player, and have sustained multiple hits on my head

Bodi Damascus, VA

Dr.'s Response:

You certainly sound like a good Upper Cervical case....Read More

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