Have Fun To Change Your Brain

 

– By Barton Tanner

For me, this Evo training community enriches my life in ways that extend far beyond a training session. The interactions that I am having with our Evo crew is continually inspiring and pushing me to new heights. In this process I sometimes have to take a step back, look at what we’ve done over this year and just marvel. We have had people break PB’s in their half marathon’s, City2Surf and other fun runs. There have been people who would not traditionally call themselves a morning person, yet now they are hitting 3 or 4 sessions per week at the beginning of the day. We tackled the Oxfam 100km and posted the best Winter Warrior competition that inspired so many of you to keep training through some of the darkest winter mornings. Every morning we have at least a handful of people that up the weights they are using, achieve a movement milestone or go further in a session than they have ever gone before.

But the biggest achievement in our training community is the FUN aspect. People are coming down to training and enjoying it. I can go on about all the physical achievements of individuals for days (seriously could talk about all of your individual achievements for a long time), yet that is not what inspires me the most. I love the way we stand for more than just ourselves at Evo. To see simple things like people looking out for their training partners, people saying hi to each other as they get to training in the morning and laughing whilst working hard through sessions. This is the highlight of my day and the inspiration of my weeks!

We are focusing on goal setting at the moment in some of our Evo communities. The main aim of this is to get you thinking about some of the things you want to achieve at training and in your life. Our Evo community is really a space of support and it is not limited to supporting you just through your training. Once again I am not actually going to talk about how you write a goal on a piece of paper – we hear enough about this in general and I think it doesn’t work if you only write down your goal without a why or an understanding of what your life purpose is.

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Today’s blog is going to focus on how you can literally change the physical makeup of your brain as you start to hardwire it towards achieving your goals. If you have been listening to my rants over the past couple of weeks, you would have noticed me throwing around the idea of mental plasticity, neural plasticity or brain plasticity (they are all different ways of saying the same thing). This is a study in neuroscience where they analyse the way in which your thoughts change the physical composition of your brain. Neuroscience as a field of study focusses on how what happens in your mind (your thoughts) actually happens in your body too, there is NO way of separating body and mind.

This is incredible and if you understand this fully you can actually change everything in your life. So let me say it again – Your thoughts change the physical composition of your brain and what is happening in the mind is happening in the body!!!

Before I delve too far down this rabbit hole, let’s break this down a bit. Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to change its structure to perceive the world. The mechanism for physical change in the brain is through thinking. Our brains have been proven to be able to change at ANY age (for better or worse). This flexibility plays an incredibly important role in our brains development (or decline), and in shaping our distinct personalities. This change is a physical process where Grey matter can actually shrink or thicken as neural connections are forged and refined or weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest in changes of our physical abilities. For example, each time we learn a new movement at training, it reflects a change in our physical brains: new “wires” (neural pathways) that give instructions to our bodies on how to perform the movement. Each time we forget someone’s name, it also reflects brain change — “wires” that once connected to the memory have been degraded, or even severed. As these examples show, changes in the brain can result in improved skills or a weakening of skills.

These days you will see me walking around with a set of homemade juggling balls. The idea behind this is to use play as a tool for developing neural plasticity. Play is one of the single best ways to enhance brain plasticity, which has a trickling effect right through the rest of your life. Physical play is how infants or children of most species learn about the world around them and how to handle the social world they live in. Performance coach Marcel Daane talks about how physical play has long been proven to boost social bonding, productivity, learning, creativity and overall happiness in all aspects of life. For me the best forms of play are those that require physical exertion, occur in a social setting and evoke laughter. When we’re having fun at training, this is what we are doing, regardless of if it is in a game, a set of exercises or just jogging and talking. When we PLAY we affect other areas of the brain that then translates to other areas of life from Emotional, Speech, Cognition, Memory, Kinesthetic (body) Awareness, Coordination and much more. By practicing the art of play in our training regime we’re enhancing these cognitive pathways and extending the benefits into the rest of our lives.

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So the task for this week is to PLAY. On the way to training I want you to think about your training goals. As you get to the session in the morning, clear your mind and allow yourself to just enjoy the session. There is no right way to enjoy a session and enjoyment can mean different things for different people. For you the enjoyment may come from trying to push yourself in the structured training sets, for others it may be focusing on the challenging movement or it may simply be just being around cool like-minded people who preference their health and wellbeing so much that they are willing to commit to it on a Sunday morning. Regardless, this process is going to help develop our neural plasticity. By developing neural plasticity we are not only enhancing the ability of the brain to adapt structurally to new situations physically, but throughout all aspects of your life. It is not a coincidence that people resort to games to help their emotional state. By putting the focus of your mind onto an external task and in the process of thinking about this task you are having fun, it can completely reshape your emotional state of being at the time. So to go back to Socrates, let’s go to work at developing the organism of thought the same way an athlete develops an organism of muscle.

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