As an expert on habits, I used to believe that our habits mostly affected our bodies. I was wrong. Our brain, mind, and habits are all interconnected.
For example, healthy eating habits contribute to brain growth. By giving your body the nutrients it needs you can boost your focus, improve memory, and slow cognitive decline. 1
On the other hand, a high sugar diet will impair your thinking, memory, and learning. High glucose levels affect mental performance and can cause your brain to atrophy or shrink. 2
Every habit you have has a direct effect on your body and your mind.
But your habits do not control your life. Your brain controls everything that you think and do. It is your body’s command center. And controls all your thoughts, emotions, memory, speech, reasoning, movement, breathing, and temperature.
Your brain impacts every decision that you make in life. It is your responsibility to protect it at all costs and not damage it. Instead treat it as your most valuable asset and do whatever you can to make it more powerful.
What is Brain Power?
The brain has about 86 billion nerve cells called neurons. How those neurons are connected directly affects the quality of the decisions that we make.
Your brain power is measured by adding the number, size, and strength of all the neural connections in your brain. It is defined as your intellectual ability. And contrary to old beliefs, your level of intelligence is not fixed at birth.
Thanks to neuroplasticity your brain is always changing and growing.
When you were born the neurons in your brain were disconnected and unable to communicate with each other. But they quickly connected with one another based on any experiences you had. These connections form at junctions called synapses and control everything that you do.
Synaptic connections allow you to learn and adapt to every new experience. Your brain also prunes connections if you don’t use them. Synaptic pruning helps you become more efficient by getting rid of connections that you don’t need and reinforcing those connections that you actually use.
The more you do something the stronger a connection becomes. This is how you form habits. And why things get easier over time with practice.
Why is this important?
You can grow your brain just like any muscle. And while good habits make your brain stronger and increase your mental performance. Bad habits will damage your brain and negatively impact your decisions.
The Brain Power Loop
Your brain is more complex and more powerful than a supercomputer. Every experience that you have changes it and affects its performance.
For example, your brain consumes a lot of energy. It requires plenty of oxygen to think and process information. When you exercise you increase blood flow to your brain and create new neurons critical for memory and learning.
Running and biking does not only make you fit. It also increases your brain’s plasticity and improves your memory, focus, and thinking skills. Exercise raises your IQ far more than any mind game by giving your brain the oxygen it needs. 3
The opposite is also true.
Sitting too much can cause thinning in your brain. A sedentary lifestyle does not give neurons enough oxygen for them to function properly. And can gradually lead to cognitive decline, memory loss, and dementia. 4
If you choose your habits wisely they help you master the world around you. Good habits energize your brain, increase efficiency, and maximize your potential. But bad habits weaken your brain and hurt decision making.
You are the architect of your brain in charge of powering it up.
The Brain Power Hierarchy
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow published one of the most popular theories of human motivation. According to Maslow, people have basic needs that must be met before they can pursue other important needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that people have to meet their physical needs such as food, water, shelter, and sleep before focusing on their personal growth. Social, emotional, and self-actualization needs are important but a person will usually pursue their immediate needs first.
When it comes to brain health, it is important to follow a similar hierarchy. Your brain has basic needs that should be fulfilled before pursuing further growth.
Oxygen and nutrients are critical for your brain because it is an energy-hungry organ. It uses 20 percent of the oxygen you breathe and energy you consume. The best way to give your brain more power is to focus on the four essentials: exercise, nutrition, sleep, and water.
Exercise acts as a fertilizer for your brain by growing neurons (neurogenesis) and protecting existing ones from stress. Even walking briskly for 30 minutes will increase the levels of a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which is vital for cognitive performance, memory, and learning.
Your brain also needs key vitamins and minerals to function properly. Leafy green vegetables are power foods that increase blood flow and metabolize nutrients for energy.
Sleeping well reorganizes and recharges your brain. And drinking plenty of water hydrates neurons and helps them to communicate better.
Challenge Your Brain to Grow It
Once your basic needs are met, there are many ways to grow your brain.
Your brain is designed to become stronger and more powerful the more you use it. The key to reaching your potential is to make a commitment to acquire new skills and knowledge on an ongoing basis. By making learning a lifelong habit, you can increase your intellectual ability.
By learning a new skill or starting a side business, your mind is forced to work harder. Hard work and learning challenge your brain and change it. Neurons multiply and form new connections every time you learn something new.
It is important to also form strong relationships to keep your brain healthy. Studies show that socializing stimulates attention and memory. Spending time with family and friends will help to strengthen neural connections.
If you challenge your brain, it will create new and denser connections of neurons and become more powerful. This is the science behind a growth mindset. And why your brain grows through effort, learning, and experience.
Reading is one of the best ways to exercise your brain and keep your memory sharp.
The goal is to form habits that unlock your full potential. Reading, meditating, journaling, and using your creativity are good ways to do that.
How to Reach Your Full Potential
Whatever skill you want to build, you are born with the ability to master it.
The phrase “Use it or Lose it” was coined by neurologist Marian Diamond to refer to what happens to the brain if it is not exercised. Her research shows that the brain continuously shrinks and expands depending on our experiences.
Just like the brain has the potential to grow, it can shrink if it is not challenged. Without enough oxygen, nutrients, rest, and hydration it can’t function properly. And when neurons are not used they lose their connections and deteriorate.
People that have a growth mindset put in the time necessary to learn a new skill. They accept that failure is a part of the learning process and see mistakes along the way as lessons to learn from and master.
Likewise, if you are going to fulfill your purpose in life you must first believe that you can be successful by working hard and developing your talents. Even if you grew up believing that your intelligence, talents, and abilities are fixed traits that cannot grow you can develop a growth mindset.
Change the way you think to maximize your potential.
Learn more: How to Break Bad Habits Damaging Your Brain
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- Research shows the best brain foods are the same ones that protect your heart and blood vessels. Harvard Health (March 2021), Foods linked to better brainpower.
- You’re also at risk of brain shrinkage in areas associated with memory and thinking. Harvard Health (December 2012), High blood sugar linked to brain shrinkage.
- Exercise boosts your memory and thinking skills both directly and indirectly. Harvard Health (February 2021), Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills.
- Sitting too much linked to changes in a section of the brain critical for memory. Leigh Hopper (April 2018), Researchers link sedentary behavior to thinning in brain.