By the age of 10 our brains have already formed trillions of connections. In relationships, we play out the behaviors we picked up from our parents. How we express ourselves, whether we feel safe to cry or be angry in front of our lovers, and even our relationship to food is somehow shaped by the way we were raised. Our habits aren’t really our habits though, at least not until we’ve put in some effort to re-wire our brains and design our lifestyles the way we want them to be.
One night while I was in Hollywood at a movie theatre I told my partner I’d be right back while I went to the restroom to wash my hands. This was of course, for me, typical behavior. Everywhere I go I usually take a moment to find a restroom and wash my hands. Because: germs, right? Sort of.
But this time as I checked myself out in the mirror while giving my hands a solid rinse off, I recalled how my mother used to do the exact same thing. Suddenly, I had flashes of all the times she would rush herself to a restroom some place to make sure her hands were clean.
“I’ve become my mother!” I exclaimed comedically as I walked out into the lobby of the theatre. And this led to a conversation about all the things we picked up from our parents over the years. Both the good and the bad. Even if we had the most amazing upbringing ever, we’ve got years of influence from society, the media and other incoming channels that may not have set the foundation for how we want to live the rest of our lives.
It’s been a long time now since we learned the human brain is plastic and can be changed. Reprogramming is entirely possible with consistency and commitment. How cool is it to know that even our genetic blue-prints aren’t set in stone? We don’t have to endure the same health conditions, emotional blockages or habits as our parents.
Today, we have more information and support at our fingertips than ever before in history. We’ve also got access to resources, tools and people who can help guide us towards becoming better.
7 Lifestyle Changes to Rewire Your Brain and Improve Happiness
1. Honor your boundaries
Walking around with no boundaries gets exhausting pretty quickly. You end up doing things you don’t want to do, and saying yes when you really mean no. Healthy people have solid boundaries to keep them aligned in their relationships with others and with themselves. If something doesn’t feel right for you, learn how to say no and mean it.
Once you get caught in the trap of saying no then explaining yourself and back-peddling to please others, you’re effectively living without strong boundaries. Contrary to popular belief, when you say no confidently, people in your life are going to trust you more. They’ll know that when you say yes to be somewhere or do something with them that you’re genuine. This creates ease inside of relationships that simply can’t exist with someone who doesn’t honor their own boundaries.
2. Live with purpose
Sounds subjective – and it is. I’m not talking about purpose as a general concept. What does it mean for you to live with purpose? Figure that part out, because your purpose is why you’re here. You’re here to make a difference in the world in your own way. When we’re constantly wrapped up in our own lives, the world gets smaller. We become so focused on our own problems that we forget about how much we have to be grateful for. Worse, we forget what it’s like to be of service to others.
Living with purpose means you’ve got something bigger to live for. Little things don’t get to you the same way anymore, and it’s less likely you’ll get caught up in a relationship that becomes your “everything” because you’ve developed a sense of purpose and deep meaning in your own life.
3. Read more books
Herbs and meditation aren’t the only way to manage stress, improve your memory and fight aging. Reading keeps your brain sharp through mental stimulation, but it can also make you more intelligent, compassionate and empathic in how you relate to others. Reading spiritual books can calm your nervous system and help you relax. Instead of turning to food for comfort when stress hits, pick up a good book instead.
What you choose to put in your consciousness on a daily basis shapes your world. Relationship books can help you recover from a break-up, put your marriage back together or improve your self-esteem and communication skills. Seeking connection to self? Empowerement? Health? Check out this list of 16 books I love.
4. Eat clean but don’t obsess
Considering the research on sugar and how it impacts the brain, diet will likely be at forefront when you’re making changes to your habits. What we put in our bodies has a profound impact on how we feel not only physically, but energetically. Eating whole, organic and fresh foods on a daily basis will improve your energy, give you an edge mentally, and improve your mood.
Depression has been linked to bacteria in the gut, so many people are looking at their diets first before taking more drastic measures. We also know that behavioral conditions like ADD and ADHD can be greatly improved by eating a healthy diet. Make eating clean a habit, just don’t go stressing yourself out over an indulgence here or there. I used to be a raw vegan and that worked for a time, but these days I eat what my body tells me. I’m not as rigid as I used to be in my diet because I’ve spent many years developing a base-line for my habits around food.
5. Sleep like a boss
Sleep is so under valued in our culture but it’s definitely one of the most necessary components of health. If you’re making a commitment to change your habits, consider sleep your best friend. Our brains process a lot while we’re sleeping, that includes new habits we’re developing, things we took in throughout the day (books we read) and any media we consumed. And of course you already know sleep is how your body regenerates, heals and repairs itself. Aim for at least 8 hours in complete darkness and don’t make no sleep a trend if you want to be a high performer, make good decisions and stick to your boundaries. As my friend Shawn Stevenson says in his book Sleep Smarter: “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything”.
6. Exercise often
Exercise boosts happy chemicals in our brains and bodies called “endorphins”, which can trigger a cascade of positive effects that are long lasting. Weight loss, disease, inflammation and sleep can all be greatly improved when you exercise consistently. This also requires you to become more sensitive to the needs and whispers of your own body. Are you pushing yourself to do a high intensity workout when what you really need is a good yoga class or a walk in the woods? Get good at honoring the needs of your own body and you’ll begin to form a deeper connection to your health and well-being. Make listening to your body a habit, this is one of the most important skills you could ever develop.
7. Practice your communication skills
In our early days of relating to others we expect people to know what we’re thinking, what we want and need without having to actually express ourselves. Fast forward to adulthood and we’ve learned (probably the hard way) that this doesn’t work so well. In order to have our needs met, we actually have to communicate in a way that lands for the listener.
You know that meme that floats around social media every now and then that reads: “I’m not responsible for what you heard, I’m only responsible for what I said?” I think that meme is ridiculous. Here’s why: communication is not just about words, it’s also about tone, body language and intention. For thousands of years we communicated only through the language of our bodies. With language being relatively new in comparison to other forms of communication that are ancient, and given how subjective language is to each individuals perceptions of the world, communicating effectively with others takes a great deal of care, patience and empathy. If someone doesn’t hear what I’m saying, I’d rather learn more about how they perceive the world than shut down and turn the other way.
8. Get in touch with your emotions
Suppressed emotions go somewhere, so where do they go? The body and the brain both suffer as a result of emotions you trap inside. Holding stuff in and keeping memories at bay takes an awful lot of energy and brain power. Your brain changes when you learn to connect with your emotions and express them in healthy ways. When you were little, you either learned the world was a dangerous or a safe place, a sad or a happy place. Now as an adult, the cup is either half-full or half-empty. But all of that can shift and change as you boost your own emotional intelligence and find ways to process your experiences. Seek out a therapist, find a coach or counsellor or join a women’s group (or men’s group) in your area that can support you.
On a day to day basis, getting in touch with your emotions can be as simple as the act of tuning into your body when your mind is hi-jacking the experience. You may think one thing and yet be feeling another. Do your heart and your mind ever wrestle one another? Let your body do the talking and feel through a decision rather than using only logic. Your emotions matter, they’re not a sign of weakness, they’re a powerful compass for your authentic yes and no.
Breath work in all its forms is a practice that can help you get into your body on a visceral level. It can boost your mood and help you connect to your emotional center. There’s yoga, deep-breathing, Holotropic breath work, rebirthing and Wim Hof method to choose from amongst many others. Creating a habit out of breath work is essentially a meditation practice that can also connect you to life source energy and raise your energy levels.
When I was in my early 20’s I got really interested in The Heart Math Institute. They’ve developed an app called “Inner Balance” with a little device you can attach to your ear lobe and watch your heart rate regulate as you feel the tension leaving your body through a series of breaths guided by a symbol on your screen. Whichever route you take, committing to a daily practice builds connections in your brain the reinforce self-care, balance and health.