What makes you happy?
What is your idea of a perfect evening?
For many of us, the answer would be something akin to relaxing on the couch, watching a great TV show, and eating something delicious. Maybe you want to stay in with your other half, or maybe you’d like to program a game.
These things are comfortable and they are refreshing. These things help you to feel calm and to rejuvenate from a tough week.
But you know what? Your brain doesn’t like those things. In fact, these are about the worst things you can possibly do as far as your body is concerned!
The reason for that is simple: when you relax and when you chill, you don’t challenge your brain. The result is that it starts to atrophy.
Grow or Shrink
The brain is able to adapt to whatever you throw at it due to a process called brain plasticity. Brain plasticity describes the ability of the brain to grow and change shape: to create new neurons and to become stronger. Herein lies the principle of SAID: specific adaptations to imposed demands. If you practice languages, you get better at language. If you practice balance, your brain gets better at that.
But if you’re not growing, then all that extra neural matter is just wasted energy. The result? Your brain starts to atrophy and starts to burn through that extra matter. The result is that you deteriorate.
Grow or shrink. Move forward or move backward. Being ‘static’ isn’t an option.
The Brain Loves Growth
When you learn a new language or skill, the brain will see this as a positive stimulus. It sees this as a chance to get stronger and ultimately improve your ability to survive. Thus it produces positive hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. These help you to learn, but they also prevent the atrophy we discussed. They protect the brain against degeneration and they make you smarter.
So while you might feel like the very best thing you can do for your brain is to relax and sit down, actually, the brain much prefers challenge and learning. Sure, have your evening off, but make sure your life isn’t just a case of alternating between stress at work and doing ‘nothing’ at home. Keep learning, keep going to new places and keep taking on new challenges!