Human beings are constantly learning and adapting. In fact, your brain is a learning machine. It is constantly working to be more and more efficient. The neural networks in your brain are similar to your muscles. The more you use them, the stronger they become. When you repeat patterns of thought, you build and strengthen neural connections.
Researchers recently discovered that your brain also performs an inverse process known as “synaptic pruning.” In this process, the existing neural connections in your brain can be broken down. This process can be put to work helping you break undesirable habits.
Here’s how it works:
Step #1: Think of your brain as a garden.
Like any garden, your brain needs pruning and clearing of “weeds.” No pesticides needed, however. Your brain itself generates all the necessary compounds. Once you understand the process, you can help.
The compounds produced by your brain are called glial cells. They pass through your brain and “prune” your synaptic connections. The process is not arbitrary, however. The glial cells seem to know just which synaptic connections need pruning.
Researchers have identified a protein that assists in this process. It is called C1q, and it marks specific synaptic connections for removal. The glial cells recognize the mark, bond with the protein, and “prune” the connection.
So how does the C1q protein decide which synaptic processes to mark for deletion? Simple. It marks the ones that are least used.
That is why it is important for you to monitor what you are mindful of.
Step #2: Decide what thoughts you want to eliminate.
The thoughts you hold most often in your consciousness are the thoughts that are protected. The thoughts you hold less often are the ones that get marked for deletion.
For example, if you spend a lot of time criticizing yourself, and much less time encouraging yourself, imagine which process will be marked for deletion?
You can help increase your brain’s efficiency by focusing on the things that are truly important to you, and letting everything else fall to the wayside.
Step #3: Sleep.
As you are learning something new, your brain begins building a lot of connections. In the beginning, they are not very efficient, but as your brain goes through and prunes them, they become more streamlined and effective.
Sleep is critical for your brain to perform that function. While you sleep, your brain cells shrink, making room for the glial cells to do their job.
Step #4: Eat well.
The food you consume has a major impact on the efficiency of your brain. Include whole grain foods in your diet, as they release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you alert all day.
It is also important to consume omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are a great addition to your diet, as they release EPA and DHA in a form your brain can use.