April 24, 2017

How I Changed my Life by Changing my Brain.

I’ve always felt stable.

I associated change with what was going on around me, not inside of me.

Then I learned that my brain is always in a state of transformation, thanks to phenomenon called neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is our brain’s ability to form and re-organize neural connections. It happens constantly as we go about our day. Whenever we learn something or do something differently, we’re establishing new neural connections in our brain.

Knowing that my brain wasn’t “set in stone” inspired me to challenge my bad habits, changing my mind and my life for the better.

Meditation broke my bad habits.

I used to rely on three cups of coffee to get me going in the morning. Once at the office, I would pick my fingernails until they were raw. Not anymore. With my daily meditation practice, I squashed my brain’s connection to bad habits.

I did 40 days of Kundalini yoga meditation. Kundalini yoga uses physical movement and breathing to clear old energy patterns from the body that influence physical and psychological responses. The movement retrains your brain on how to respond in difficult situations. I began to notice a shift in my habits within two weeks.

I started using mudras while meditating. I was constantly picking my fingernails before mediation. Practicing mudras during meditation (specific hand and finger placements) ended my desire to fidget. Whenever I caught myself picking my fingernails, I changed to holding a mudra. After a month, I noticed that my fingers would start making the shape of a mudra when I was nervous.

I learned how to breath properly. I’ve tried many different meditation styles. The ones with a set breathing pattern were the best for me. Whenever I notice myself slipping into bad habits, I start rhythmic breathing instead.

Engaging my brain eradicated impulses.

I used to be quite an impulsive person. I couldn’t walk by Sephora without going in and buying the latest “Urban Decay” lipstick. I realized that my brain was desperate to stay busy. So I focused on rewiring it to help it settle down.

I learn something new each day. I realized that my brain wanted something new and different to think about each day. Now I check Reddit every morning to learn a new fun fact or two. At the office, I challenge myself to learn and practice a new Excel function or shortcut.

I engage both sides of my brain. To help my brain feel satisfied and well-rounded, I focused on activities that would use both sides of my brain. I started taking French classes for my analytical side and stepped up my time in the dance studio to engage my brain’s connection to my body.

I focus on one thing at a time. Before, I was the queen of multitasking. Then I started meditating. I practiced emptying my mind and letting stray thoughts pass, rather than chasing every idea that came my way. Now I can focus without letting extraneous thoughts distract me.

Feeding my body lowered my stress levels.

Your body and your brain are inextricably linked. To take better care of my brain, I took better care of my body. I saw my stress levels lower dramatically and that only boosted my confidence to keep going.

I changed my diet. Along with letting go of caffeine, I let go of processed foods. Now I eat a diet high in leafy greens and omega-3. I also drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

I make sure to exercise. In addition to regularly going to the dance studio, I go for a five mile run at least every other day. The rise in my endorphins calms my sympathetic nervous system, which in turn keeps my fight-or-flight response from activating the rest of the day.

I take time to sleep. I used to get four hours of sleep a night. Now that I’m engaging my brain every day, I need eight hours a night. Sleeping gives my brain the break it needs to process all the events of the day. I’m more alert and have more energy than ever.

My new brain has brought me happiness.

Two months after all these changes, I feel great. I learned that I don’t have to feel trapped by my brain, body, or lifestyle. It’s all under my control. By increasing the neuroplasticity of my brain, I no longer crave caffeine or a new eyeshadow palette.

I’m less stressed, have more energy, and am enjoying life more than ever.

Author: Tracy Layden
Image: Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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Thy H Vo May 2, 2017 4:30pm

I need to try something of these

Tracy Layden Apr 28, 2017 8:39pm

Thanks Barry! You're so right that slipping backwards is hard. It's taken practice to keep looking forward and realize that slipping one day doesn't mean I've ruined everything.

Barry Hill Apr 28, 2017 1:00pm

Thanks for sharing your experience to show how effective a litte change can be. It is easy to slip into bad habits, which can quickly cause a feeling of unhappiness. Your determination to improve is inspirational.

Paul Falvo Apr 26, 2017 9:25pm

Cool. I'm on chicory. I still love coffee but don't need it. (Which I guess is a great way to be!)

Tracy Layden Apr 26, 2017 4:46pm

Thanks Paul! I did take coffee out of my routine. I switched to tea if I need a bit of a caffeine boost. It's amazing how my body had built up a caffeine tolerance. Now I only need a little tea (or chocolate) to start feeling the effects.

Tracy Layden Apr 26, 2017 4:43pm

Glad to hear that, Allison!

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Tracy Layden

Tracy Layden is a certified aging in place specialist. She was born and raised in the Silicon Valley. Tracy leads the marketing efforts at Alert-1, a personal safety technology and consulting firm dedicated to helping seniors live safely and independently. Tracy holds a degree in mathematics from Scripps College and is an accomplished ballroom dancer and equestrian.