Men's Health (UK) - - Time -

for the brain to re­peat an ex­ist­ing blueprint – or neu­ro­log­i­cal path­way – than build a new one. In short: your brain likes to stick to what it knows.

Let’s put it this way: imag­ine a field of grass, with a gate on ei­ther side. The first time you walk across the field you ex­pend ef­fort, tram­pling the grass. It’s hard. But af­ter a while it be­comes eas­ier to use the path you have cre­ated than to cre­ate a new one. This is how pro­cesses are learned in your mind, ex­plains Beaven-marks. But by re­ly­ing on the well-trod­den path­ways, you run the risk of stag­nat­ing men­tally and are un­likely to push your­self to think or act in new, po­ten­tially life- en­hanc­ing ways.

Har­vard psy­chol­o­gists Robert Yerkes and John Dod­son con­sid­ered that when it comes to your fit­ness and ca­reer, you only get out what you put in. Their re­search shows that a state of rel­a­tive men­tal com­fort gen­er­ates a steady level of per­for­mance. But we aren’t in­ter­ested in pro­mot­ing the av­er­age. To max­imise out­put, our brain needs to ex­pe­ri­ence a state of rel­a­tive ex­cite­ment or anx­i­ety just out­side its com­fort zone. Oth­er­wise, your abil­ity to think out­side the box will ex­po­nen­tially de­cline as you get older.

Ac­tive cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing – or chang­ing up your habits – can fight this de­cline. And, for those who fear change, it needn’t be hugely dra­matic. Take a dif­fer­ent route to work. Slink off to a new pub at lunchtime. Or, even bet­ter, move your heav­i­est train­ing ses­sion to a Sun­day. Not only will this over­lay stag­nated rou­tines, but by forc­ing your body to go heavy on what is usu­ally a rest day, your men­tal mus­cle will be stim­u­lated to adapt in the same way as those you see in the mir­ror. You can stop at that new pub on the way home.

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