Day 3: Neuroplasticity: the secret to rewiring your brain for calm

Think you’re stuck in your ways? Think again. Mindfulness training can help you form positive new habits that last

 

In today’s Mindfulness for Modern Life video, Ruby explains to Rituals’ creative director Dagmar Brusse about how the modern world is increasing our exposure to burnout but how mindfulness and using our senses can help bring down anxiety.  

 

TODAY’S READ: Making healthy habits stick 

Each of our brains is packed full of neurons with gaps between them called synapses that relay information. Neuroplasticity is the ability for those neurons to adjust and mindfulness has been proven time and again to have the power to change our brains for the better. To trigger neuroplasticity, you simply need to repeat positive actions. If we do more of the same thing over and over again, those connections in the brain become hardwired and the more hardwired they become, the more you’ll repeat the same behaviours, thoughts or feelings.  

 

“By strengthening certain connections and breaking others, the chemicals in our brain can be turned up or down to make them work for us and not against us,” explains Ruby. “For example, if you’re practising mindfulness to be open to gratitude or joy, the neurons for anger start to weaken and the neurons for happiness strengthen. That then releases new chemicals in your body to make you feel good, which helps hardwire positive feelings as your new default.” With continual mindfulness practice you can change the way your brain is wired and how you think and feel for the better. 

 

However, “if you continually say, ‘I can’t do it, or I can’t change’, then that’s what will hardwire, and you won’t be able to change,” explains Ruby. “And there are always things we’re never going to be able to do - I’m not a natural pianist and I don’t have rhythm, but by practising and repeating my brain reshapes so that I can improve it a little bit.” This means that, if you want to, you can change how you think and respond to things by using mindfulness as the tool to get you there. You can change any negative and unhelpful habits and switch them for uplifting and positive ones. Sounds good, right? 

 

Today, we want you to think about all the stress-inducing moments in your day and how by making simple swaps, or changing fixed habits, we can turn those negative moments into more positive ones. Here are Ruby’s how-to tips, try them all over the remaining days of this masterclass and aim to make one or more stick longer-term: 

  

1. Wake up 10 minutes earlier 

“Instead of reaching for your phone as soon as you wake up, dedicate your first ten minutes to a mindfulness session." Go back to Day 1 remind yourself how.  

  

2. Have a mindful coffee 

“Take your time having your coffee in the morning rather than robotically gulping it down. Thoughts may come into your mind but keep bringing your focus back to the taste of the coffee. Remember: even a few seconds make a difference in your brain.” 

  

3. Turn your morning journey into a mindfulness moment 

“If you're doing the school run, waiting for the bus or driving to work and you can feel agitation rising, focus on your feet on the ground or tune into something you’re holding. And if you're still getting jumpy because you're going to be late, focus on the feeling of jumpiness.” 

  

4. Get rid of the day before you see your family 

“Don't bring your day back to your family. On your way home or standing outside the front door, for a minute tune in to sound - listen to ambient noise and come out of your head. By doing this, you're transforming yourself from the person you are during the day to the person who talks to people at home and listens to them.” 

  

5. Bedtime thought takeover 

“In bed, put your phone down, switch the TV off and try a three-minute practice. Just lie there and allow your thoughts to have one last orgy: ruminate, worry, plan, brood, let rip. After a minute, bring your focus back to your breath for 60 seconds and, in the last minute, breathe into your body from your toes to your head and let sleep take over.” 

TODAY’S TASK: Mindfulness for dissatisfaction 

Many of us, when faced with a challenge, want to problem solve - when we face a problem, we seek an answer. But between those two states – problem and answer - is a gap. And we humans give most of our energy to closing that gap without comprehending that some gaps can't be closed. This exercise will help bring a reality check to that thinking. 

  

Write these things down and afterwards, consider your answers: 

  

*What you want and can't have 

*What you have and don’t want 

*What you think would make you happy 

*Why you ultimately know it won’t make you happy 

 

We all need a coping mechanism for life’s stressors, that’s why day 4 of our mindfulness masterclass looks at how to use mindfulness to deal with stress in the moment.