Greetings! Megan here.
We know the brain has plasticity, so we know we can shape and mold it. However, many of us don’t know what to do to see a difference.
Oftentimes we see things as black/white, good/bad, like/dislike, right/wrong which are limiting perspectives and keep us stuck in just two options. To increase our flexibility and make training the brain easier, we have to work on the brain’s flexibility and give our brain more options and perspectives from which to see our life and the world.
If you want to decrease your anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression, here are some specific exercises that help you create flexibility in the brain.
Create a Mind-Body Connection
First, focus on your 5 senses.
Take a minute or two, wherever you are, to focus on each sense and be as descriptive as possible. Naming and noticing while not judging (they aren’t good or bad; right or
wrong; they just are).
Sight: What are you seeing? Colors, textures, name the objects, just notice.
Smell: What are the smells around you? Do you smell the grass, flowers, stale
office furniture, someone’s lunch, your deodorant, or shampoo? Again, use your
adjectives: pungent, sour, sweet, stale, fresh, etc.
Taste: What are you tasting? Toothpaste? Coffee? Breath mint? Be descriptive:
Minty, tangy, sweet, bitter, etc.
Touch: What does it feel like in the chair you’re sitting in or on the floor/ground
you’re standing on? Is there a breeze? Warm sun on your face? What do the
clothes feel like on your skin? Tight, loose, itchy, soft, cozy, etc.
Hearing: What are you hearing inside this space (room, car, etc)? What are you
hearing outside of this space (next room, outside, down the street)?
Next, Count your breathing.
Count to 4 or 5 or 6 on each inhale and exhale for the same number. It
doesn’t matter what number you choose, one’s not better than another, just do what feels
best for you. Counting in and out for the same number is very balancing. As you do this
breathing work, notice the break in breath at the top of the breath and at the bottom where it feels like the breath is suspended for just a moment.
Know what you have control over and what you don’t have control over.
The easy answer is: You only have control over yourself. Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Even if sometimes it feels like you don’t, you can learn how to do this. What you don’t have control over is anyone else – what they do, what they say, how they think, how they feel.
Awaken The Auto-Pilot and be Kind to Yourself (and Others!)
Notice your critical voice. We speak to ourselves, in our mind, with many different voices. Sometimes we’re very parental with ourselves and sometimes we are free and playful. Other times we can be very critical. If you have any sort of perfectionistic tendencies or are a bit Type-A, this may really resonate. When we begin to just notice (no need to try to change it) when we are speaking to ourselves critically we inherently change it. Just the sheer act of paying attention and noticing (without judgment) has the ability to change the issue at hand. And remember, don’t be critical of yourself being critical – just notice it for what it is and move on!
For ultra brain flexibility do a routine task differently.
-If you have “your spot” at the kitchen or dining room table, move to another spot at
-If you have a morning routine in the bathroom, change it up. Brush your teeth first,
then take a shower, then floss your teeth.
-Soap up in the shower differently. If you usually start and your head, start at your feet.
Remember, there is no right or wrong, good or bad and we aren’t going for efficiency right now. We’re going for a change of perspective as well as flexibility of thinking and doing, which will help you change other, bigger, things if you want to! You’re building new neural pathways in your brain! Congrats!
I hope these insights are helpful! Let me know if you have any questions!
Have you noticed that you and your partner have arguments about the same thing over and over again? Or perhaps the subject matter in arguments gets changed to something in the past or unrelated to what caused the conflict in the first place? This may be a result of emotional dominos being stacked up within your relationship.
Emotional dominos are under the surface conflicts that are unresolved.
Usually, these dominos are hidden and only surface during a conflict. Often dominos are related to events of inclusion, affection, and influence. For example, whenever your partner does or says something to you that makes you feel unloved, a small domino appears regardless if it was intentional or not.
If we do not repair this domino, it grows into a larger one and likely breeds more dominos. These dominos then begin stacking up and leaning on each other, and small moments in your relationship can knock them over and cause conflict.
One such small moment, for example, could be your partner not sitting next to you on the couch. This action knocks all those other dominos down and the event of not sitting on the couch turns into something more emotionally intense than originally warranted.
The tricky part about dealing with dominos, besides them being hidden, is that we feel like we must solve the domino we are presented with now. In this case, it would be sitting next to each other on the couch.
Couples often make the mistake of trying to solve problems too quickly. Even if your partner just agrees to sit next to you on the couch forever, you are still left with the original domino of feeling unloved. In order to heal these past conflicts, your partner and you have to go through all of the dominos one by one to make sense of why they are there in the first place and then empathize with each one.
A behavior of listening to understand rather than respond or solve is a great first step. Instead of responding defensively or by immediately problem-solving, we should ask our partners to “tell me more.”
Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot of terms like: “peak performance,” “level up,” and “elevate yourself” as it relates to being our best self. However, our best self is something that we should take time to think of. Only once we have a good idea of what our best self looks like can develop a proper road map to achieving that.
One tool that can be very effective in achieving our goals, can be to take an inventory of ourselves and assess mindfully how we are trending. We might think of trending as it relates to social media. However, here the term describes an assessment of ourselves.
In therapy or counseling, we often use scales to take a personal inventory.
For example, if you have been experiencing constant anxiety you may say that the anxiety is at an 8 out of 10; 10 being the worst. Your long-term goal may be to get anxiety down to a 2 or 3. However, that can’t happen unless you develop a plan and utilize anxiety-relieving tools.
Understanding how you are trending allows you to set measurable goals where you are able to go from an 8 to a 6 and so forth. If you take that progression then you are trending in the correct direction.
Often individuals have great long-term goals. Which could be to feel more peace, to be happier, or to be less stressed. What often gets in the way of those goals is being unaware of the direction we are trending. After all, all of us carry busy schedules and have many things to do. When we are overwhelmed or highly stressed our brains go into survival mode instead of naturally assessing how we are trending.
If you have a goal or an idea of what your best self is; are you trending away or toward that direction? If you are trending away, what might you do to help yourself begin to trend in the right direction? If you notice you are trending toward your goal what has been working? And as always be gentle with yourself in any direction you may be headed.