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Keeping your mind fresh and flexible

When was the last time you travelled home from work on a different route to normal?

In my coaching work I often encourage people, especially those who are maybe a little stuck or who want to up their game, to go and seek out variety and unpredictability.

This is important because so much of what we do, what we say and how we think, is driven by habit. Habit is useful, because it’s ‘expensive’ from a brain-power point of view to have to stop and think about things before we do them. Being on autopilot is efficient. And yet, if habit is all that drives us, how do we develop, learn and grow?

I’ve long argued that the extra brain-expense of doing things like driving home on a different route every now and then, is a good investment, because it helps our brains make new connections and be more pliable. Those connections and that pliability are extremely useful for increased problem-solving and mental and sensory acuity – the ability to spot information and recognise patterns.

So it was interesting reading Steven Kotler’s book “The Rise of Superman – decoding the science of ultimate human performance,” in which Kotler cites unpredictability and novelty as being essential steps towards achieving what athletes call flow state.

“[things like] brushing your teeth with the wrong hand,” says Kotler, “…increases novelty and unpredictability, demanding focus and pattern recognition.”

I’m still only half-way through that book and undecided about just how useful it might be, but it’s nice to see others also emphasising these points. Kotler also goes on to quote renowned neuroscientist James Olds as saying that new routines in our daily lives produce dopamine and norepinephrine, the feel-good chemicals that our brains use to amplify focus and enhance performance. In fact, I got really excited, because Kotler then says that James Olds practices what he preaches by driving home from work a different route every night!! Unfortunately, even though this would be a great way to justify what I’ve been telling people to do for years, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate – read for yourself what Olds did actually say in one interview by clicking here.

Regardless of that possible slip up, I’m interested in how you keep things fresh and your brain nice and flexible? How do you make sure that not everything you do is driven by habit or routine?

As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach.


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