Neuroplasticity: The Secret of “The Source” … Tara Swart’s new book on how to change your brain to live a better life

March 13, 2019

We used to assume that we each have our established ways of thinking and behaving, and as we get older the capability of our brain to learn and adapt becomes more difficult.  Yet our brain can grow new neurons at any age. Each neuron can transmit up to 1,000 nerve signals a second and make as many as 10,000 connections with other neurons. Our thoughts come from the chemical signals that pass across the synaptic gaps between neurons: the more connections we make, the more powerful and adaptive our brain can be.

Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, practising medical doctor, and executive coach, with a background in psychiatry. I first met her on stage in Bratislava, where we both were delivering our “Big Idea” for Europe. Whilst a super-smart neuroscientist she is immediately engaging too. Her first book, “Neuroscience for Leadership” was more of an academic text. Her new book is “The Source” is more populist, and claims most of the things we want from life – health, happiness, wealth, love – are governed by our ability to think, feel and act. In other words, by our brain. It has even resulted in her becoming “Neuroscientist in Residence” at London’s ultra-hip Corinthia Hotel.

Keeping the brain fit through exercise and yoga, continual learning and rich experiences, enhances your mental agility. In the past leaders relied more upon experience and procedure, in today’s world we need leaders who can make sense of new patterns, imagine new possibilities, thriving on diversity of thought and complexity of action. Leaders need to have a mind that is always ahead, seeing and anticipating what next.

“Think of the brain as the hardware of a computer” says Swart. “Your mind is the software. You’re the coder who upgrades the software to transform the data (thoughts). You also control the power supply that fuels the computer — the food and drink you consume, when and how to exercise and meditate, who to interact with… You have the power to maintain or destroy your neural connections.”

Mindful activities such as yoga or meditation reduce levels of cortisol and increase the fold of the outer cortex of the brain, allowing the pre-frontal cortex to better regulate our emotional responses. Swart says just 12 minutes a day, most days of the week, will make a noticeable difference. New experiences such as travel, learning a skill, such as a foreign language, and meeting new people can stimulate the growth of new neurons.

There are some obvious ways to improve your brain function, such as drink more water, get more exercise, and don’t use read from electronic screens in the last hour before bed. Sleeping less than seven to eight hours a night isn’t sustainable for most people, because that’s how long it takes to clear out toxins. Sleeping on your left side helps the brain to flush out toxins more efficiently, and downing a spoonful of coconut oil before a big meeting boosts brain power for about 20 minutes.

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