The trick is to deliberately ingrain new habits, not by killing off the old habits, but by creating parallel pathways. Scientists say new paths can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks. Here’s how:
- Use a learning method that has worked in the past. “I apprentice myself to someone when I want to learn something new or develop a new habit,” says M. J. Ryan, author of This Year I Will … “Other people read a book about it or take a course. If you have a pathway to learning, use it because that’s going to be easier than creating an entirely new pathway in your brain.”
- Put yourself in the stretch zone. That’s when you’re doing an activity that feels a bit awkward and unfamiliar (but not overwhelming). “It helps keep your brain healthy,” Ryan writes. “It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study,” Ryan says. “Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day—listen to a new radio station, for instance—found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.”
- Practice a Japanese technique called kaizen, which calls for tiny, continuous improvements. Big changes can trigger a fight-or-flight response. Small steps don’t trigger that response, but rather keep us in a creative frame of mind.
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