When it comes to high performance, one of the best technologies we have access to is neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the formation of new neuropathways when our brain learns new skills and grows.
It’s the internal technology that underlies the formation of new habits you require to reach your goals.
To ensure you have the latest version of this technology, and can leverage it for high performance, you need to ensure the conditions in your brain are optimal for neuroplasticity.
To prepare our brains for high performance, we use the acronym SEEDS—sleep, exercise, education, diet, stress.
Quality sleep has always been the superpower of high performance.
On the flip side, sleep deprivation has been used to deliberately invoke stress when testing and training elite special forces soldiers.
High performers ensure they get the right amount of sleep for their bodies. There are five key reasons sleep is important:
- Recharging your energy. When we are awake, our brain consumes up to 25 per cent of our energy as it experiences the world and creates new neural pathways. Sleep allows the brain and mind to rest and recover.
- Consolidations of new neural pathways. Your brain needs the downtime of sleep to reconfigure your mind with those new things we learned throughout the day.
- Formation of new neurons. The brain you are born with is not the brain you leave with. We can grow new neurons. The process is called Neurogenesis. This amazing technology occurs when we are asleep.
- Strengthening of existing neural pathways. When we learn a new skill or habit, it creates a new neural pathway. Myelin forms around that new pathway like insulation to stop it leaking when you are asleep, keeping the signal strong.
- Waste product removal. Waste products are removed from the brain during sleep to ensure smooth functioning.
I recommend tracking your sleep. I use an Oura Ring. It measures the quantity and quality of your sleep and provides suggestions on how to improve it.
The benefits of exercise are well documented.
Exercise goes beyond the body and extends to the mind to promote neuroplasticity.
This occurs for several reasons.
The first is increased blood flow to the brain, promoting strong neural pathways and assisting in myelination around them.
Increased blood flow not only fuels your brain, it also assists in the removal of waste products.
Exercise also releases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and certain neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, serotonin, and glutamate, which improve learning, memory and mood elevation.
There is also a release of dopamine, which not only feels good, it motivates us to repeat this activity.
Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a gym junkie either.
Start with looking for ways to move your body for 30 to 60 minutes every day that elevates your heart rate (to safe levels), gets you sweating and moving your entire body.
Make it fun too.
Group fitness activities are great because you get the social aspect and the benefits of exercise.
Your brain is like a muscle, and like all muscles, it needs to be stimulated to grow and stop it from declining.
The old saying, ‘use it or lose it’ applies here. So, what does brain exercise look like?
Focusing activities like reading, learning and studying stimulates the neural connections in our brain.
These are enhanced when we cognitively challenge ourselves by learning new and/or novel things.
The metaphor for learning new things is like adding weight to your barbells or running an extra kilometre. Growth and gains are found in the challenge.
Learning a new game, sport or even just taking a route to work, which requires you to focus and pay attention, all flex the muscle between your ears and keep it strong and healthy.
It’s true, we are what we eat.
There is a vast amount of research around brain food.
I particularly like the work Dave Asprey does in the field of biohacking.
If you love this subject as much as I do, I can recommend all five of his books.
From experience and research, there are three food groups you need to consider when thinking about your brain health, neuroplasticity and enhancing your mind for optimal performance.
They are amino acids, fats and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods.
Amino Acids. We need 20 different amino acids to produce strong neurotransmitters and for optimal health.
However, only nine amino acids are deemed essential.
There are 11 non-essential amino acids produced in the body, and the nine essential amino acids must be obtained through your diet.
Fresh vegetables and good quality proteins are your friends here, as are some supplements.
Fats. The human brain is nearly 60 per cent fat.
Recent research has discovered that fatty acids are among the most crucial nutrients required for optimal brain performance and neuroplasticity.
Omega 3 fatty acids are great, for they keep the connections between your neuropathways flowing and healthy. They also play a key role in preventing cognitive decline.
Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods. Most illnesses, pain and discomfort we experience in our body can be associated with some type of inflammation.
By avoiding inflammatory foods and choosing anti-inflammatory foods, we can decrease the pain that stops us from being mobile and continue to move and exercise, which benefits our brain and neuroplasticity.
Environmental toxins eventually enter the food chain and can cause inflammation.
Therefore, it can be beneficial to eat food containing antioxidants or take supplements to counteract these inflammatory factors.
What we put in our mouths has one of the biggest impacts on our health and performance.
Some proactive changes here can have a massive impact on our short and long-term health.
Some stress is healthy for us.
When it becomes prolonged and at high levels, it is detrimental to our health.
Being overly stressed can decrease neuroplasticity, affecting our ability to learn and remember.
Thinking back to our gym metaphor, if you put too much weight on the barbell, you can do yourself an injury.
Stress can do this to our brain.
Look for ways each day to decrease stress in your life.
A walk in nature, exercise, catching up with friends or family can all be great strategies.
One of the best ways to reduce stress in the moment is through breathing, in particular, ‘box breathing’.
All you do is breath in for a count of four, hold it for a count of four, exhale for a count of four and hold for a count of four before repeating the cycle.
Do this cycle five to 10 times and your mind will calm, stress will decrease, and you can think a lot more clearly.
To leverage the best technology you have access to, neuroplasticity, plant the SEEDS habits into your daily routine.
Read part one of The High Performance Mind here.