Out Of Autopilot, Into First Gear

January 21, 2010 at 3:04 pm Leave a comment

Is Your Brain On Autopilot? Image by uyo14 on Stock.Xchng Routines, ruts, and habits: they’re comfortable, easy, maybe even a bit lazy. When your life is filled with familiar routines, your brain doesn’t have to work very hard as you move through your day… and therein lays the problem.

For your brain to be healthy, it needs exercise, and it needs exposure to “new”: new things, new thoughts, new ways of doing ordinary tasks and actions.

When faced with novel experiences, the brain is forced to create neural pathways to deal with the experience.  And those new neural pathways? They strengthen the brain against age-related declines and the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

So while you don’t want to disrupt *all* of your routines and habits (especially the healthy ones!) giving your day a bit of a shakeup is a good thing.  Changes can be small, like sitting in a new place at the breakfast table, or large, like learning to speak in a new language.

Other suggestions for shutting down the autopilot?

  • While driving, take the road less traveled, and take alternate routes.
  • Try out a new grocery store;  the different floor layout will force you to pay more attention.
  • Consider opposing or unfamiliar political viewpoints, and legitimately try to understand why people feel the way they do.  (and no, saying “They’re stupid!” isn’t really trying!)
  • Learn basic greetings in a number of languages, and use them to say hello and goodbye to people throughout your day.
  • Develop a practice “mindfulness”, Buddhist inspired awareness of your surrounding and thoughts.
  • Shake up your eating habits:  Eat pizza for breakfast, pancakes for dinner.
  • Listen to an entirely different type of music than you usually do, watch a completely TV show or movie from an unfamiliar genre.
  • Try “wrong-handedness”:  Punch in an ATM code with your non-dominant hand.  Eat with your fork in the wrong hand.  Get out of bed on the wrong side.

In other words, seek out as many of your small, meaningless habits as you can, and do your best to temporarily disrupt them.  Pay attention to the small things around you, and be mindful of your environment. Not only will your brain thank you, but you may discover some bright, shiny new aspects of life in the process!

(And my apologies for the mixed flying/driving metaphor in the title.  Did you notice?)

Entry filed under: Be Mentally Active. Tags: , , .

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness

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