Change Your Brain, Upgrade Your Life

Digital illustration of two opposite-facing heads with puzzle pieces

Up until the 1960s, the prevailing science said that you were hardwired at birth. And by the end of your childhood, the story went, your brain was more or less like a completed house: the foundation cemented, rooms built, roof nailed down. Maybe you could repaint the kitchen, but there was no way anyone was going to renovate.

Happily, those ideas turned out to be wrong. And instead, the science of neuroplasticity has been widely accepted for about the last 10 years. Your brain really can be renovated, and it can happen at any time. When you learn a new skill, you change your brain by making new neural connections. When you learn to play an instrument, speak a new language, juggle a ball, go for a walk, eat wild salmon, and so much more, your brain begins to change.

What’s even more exciting, though, is that you can change your brain not just by doing, but also by thinking. For example, research shows that the act of focusing and being aware through meditation changes the brain. According to the CDC, more people than ever are turning to meditation to experience greater peace, joy, and success in their lives.

Exercise Your Body, “Innercise” Your Brain

The value of exercise in promoting overall health has long been understood. Thanks to our latest understanding of neuroplasticity, we now know that training the brain— “Innercising”—also promotes wellness.

The things you’ve learned in life up to this point have only taken you so far. Parents, teachers, siblings, and friends start us off. Those relationships, and the experiences in our young lives, condition us. They teach us our mindset, our skills, and our beliefs—and while much of this was vital at that time, and perhaps is still empowering in ways, a significant amount of it does not serve us well now as adults.

For example, there are likely times when you strive to achieve more, but lack the real tools required to make meaningful progress. In part that’s because today’s rules are constantly changing; you don’t have much control over this. On the other hand, your brain’s “software,” with its ancient safety-conscious, energy-efficient, negatively oriented, change-hating propensity, is another big part of limiting your progress. And the good news is, you do have considerable control over this.

Instead of operating at a low level of creativity and productivity—the thermostatic comfort zone of a habitualized brain where very little energy is spent on changing anything in your life—why not have the best brain you can? Seriously: why not?

That’s where Innercising comes in. To get started on your own personal Life 2.0 upgrade, try these two Innercises. Do them each day for 3–5 minutes and notice how your experience of life begins to shift.

Innercise #1—Take 6, Calm the Circuits:

Take six deep breaths in through your nose, then blow out through your mouth like you’re blowing through a straw. Research has shown that when you are under mental, emotional, or even financial duress, your stress center is activated, which in turn lowers your brain’s executive function abilities. Taking six rhythmic breaths helps deactivate your stress response system and allows you to be in a calm and proactive mind frame versus a disempowered and reactive one. Being calm is essential to freeing yourself from the old, disempowering neural patterns locking you up in your mental or emotional prison.

Young woman sitting cross-legged in bed meditating

Follow this up with …

Innercise #2—AiA (“eye-ya”):

AiA stands for Awareness, Intention, Action.

Awareness—In a calm, relaxed frame of mind (as you gently breathe in and out), become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the current behaviors you’ve been engaged in.

Intention—Next ask yourself, “What is my intention for this moment? Is this really what I want? Do I really want to feel this way? Do I really want to have this emotion? Do I really want to do this behavior over and over again?” Then ask yourself, “What is one intention I have?” Is it to be happy, healthy, more successful? You define what this intention is, from a calm state where your fear and stress circuits aren’t activated.

Action—Once you choose your intention, take one small, simple step toward achieving your goal. Ask yourself, “What is one action step I can take to be happier/healthier/more successful?”—whatever intention you’ve defined.

Neuroplasticity combined with the newest discoveries in behavioral psychology is a game changer. It offers you the potential to literally change your brain and, as a result, your life. Doing these Innercises daily will cause you to start developing new neural connections that become part of your “default mode network”—the part of your brain that operates things automatically, without thought. Why not be deliberate and conscious about your own evolution rather than waiting and hoping that something changes? This is you—in action.