“TO MAXIMISE PERFORMANCE, OUR BRAIN NEEDS TO EXPERIENCE A STATE OF RELATIVE EXCITEMENT”
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.