Usually, we are not friends with today. We tend to postpone, delegate, delay, write New Year’s resolution:
I’ll start on Monday. I’ll start next year.
And yet, perhaps we need to learn to become friends with our here and build better tomorrows.
"You are born with some brain wiring as determined by your genes, but the environment can turn some genes on and off, allowing your brain to wire itself to your experiences. Your brain is shaped by the realities of the world you are in, including the social world made by agreement among people. And if your brain operates by prediction and construction and rewires itself through experience, it is no overstatement to say that if you change your current experiences today, you can change who you become tomorrow." (source)
We cannot change our pasts, but we can change our future. For our brain, today’s intentions and actions will become predictions for tomorrow’s intentions and actions.
Intuitively, we all know this fact. Whenever we learn a new skill (driving, knitting, walking, brushing our teeth) with enough repetitions, today’s efforts will become tomorrow’s automatic actions or habits.
Like I said in another article, here lies the reason rumination and negative self-talk can push us inside a vicious cycle. The more we repeat an internal negative monologue, the more the brain stamps those thoughts as meaningful.
By training ourselves to become aware and control today’s experiences, a vicious cycle can be reborn as a virtuous cycle.
And how do we train ourselves? This question could lead to enough material for a few books. I’ll try to cover some key aspects.
Routines and plans. The key to rewiring the brain is to have a plan and keep at it, even if it not working perfectly. Adjust if necessary. Think of backup plans. Keep a planner (paper or digital) and track what works and what doesn’t. Write your plans the night before. See what works best for you. Either start with the most challenging task of the day or start with small challenges that make you feel victorious. Track your time. I wrote more about time management and planning in this article, a comprehensive guide on time blocking. Do not attempt to change too many things at once. Enjoy small victories. Focus on the building processes, not the final output. Trust your new system.
What would you think is the better learning method? Perhaps being in a focused mode? Barbara Oakley and her colleagues discovered that the optimal way to efficient learning is alternating between focused and diffused modes (diffused mode is taking breaks and letting your mind wander).
The best way to create epiphanies is to work hard, research, think about a task (focused mode), and then, like Elsa, let it go (diffused mode).
Take a break, do something else that relaxes you, sleep. Going back and forth between focused and diffused modes is a much better strategy to learn new concepts and create aha! moments. This approach explains why we have our Eureka ideas in the shower while the mind is distracted.
Sleep is critical.
A few studies suggest that cerebral spinal fluid increases while sleeping, and it clears toxic molecules.
One study watched colored dye flow through the brain of sleeping mice. They discovered that the space between brain cells increases during sleep as the brain cells shrink. This activity allows the brain to flush out brain toxins accumulated during the day.
Another study recorded the electrical activity and took fMRI images of adults while they slept.
During non-REM sleep, oxygen-rich blood (red) flows out of the brain while cerebrospinal fluid (blue) rolls in. That cerebrospinal fluid may help clean harmful proteins out of the brain.
What is the link between sleep, diffuse and focused modes, and training ourselves to become aware and control today’s experiences? Literally, our brain today is not the same as it was the previous day. During the night, our brain clears or accumulates toxins, encodes, consolidates, or prunes memories, categorizes thoughts, feelings, experiences, and produces novel ideas.
Prioritizing sleep, an eminently diffuse mode, is crucial.
By sprinkling thoughts, experiences, activities today, we can shape our tomorrow because:
Who you are today is not the same person who went to sleep last night. We now know that your experiences during the day are integrated into your brain circuits while you are asleep. So, that you wake up in the morning, your brain is updated.
You can take advantage of this to become a different person than you were last week, last month, or last year because your brain is different, and you can guide the process.
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