In 2007 researchers at the University of Oxford found something impressive. After comparing the brains of newborns with those of normal adultss they found that the average adult had 41% fewer neurons than the average newborn.
If babies have more neurons, why are adults smarter?
First of all, let's see what happens here because this is closely related to building new habits.
The power of synaptic pruning in building new habits
Synaptic pruning is a phenomenon that occurs as we age. The basic idea is that your brain prunes the connections between underused neurons and accumulates them in the most used connections.
For example, if you play the piano for 10 years your brain will strengthen musical neurons. The more you touch it, the stronger its connections will become. And besides, they not only get stronger; they also become faster and more efficient. As your brain builds stronger and more efficient connections, you can express your abilities with greater ease and experience.
It is a biological change that helps the development of skills. In the event that you don't play the piano, the brain prunes those unused connections and assigns them to building other life skills.
This explains the difference between the brains of newborns and adult brains.
Babies are born with brains that are like a blank canvas. It's all a possibility, but they don't have strong connections anywhere. Adults, however, have pruned part of their neurons but have strong connections that allow them to perform skills.
Now comes the fun part!Let's talk about how synaptic pruning plays an important role in building new habits.
The stacked habit
Synaptic pruning happens in every habit you create. You probably have very strong habits that you do every day.
For example, your brain is possibly very efficient at reminding you to shower in the morning, make coffee, roll up the blinds when the sun is out… and thousands of other habits that you do on a daily basis. You can take advantage of these connections to build new habits.
How? Stacking them on top of a current habit. It's called habit stacking for that very reason: you stack your new habit on top of a current habit.
Because the habit is strongly connected to your brain already, you can add a new habit to this fast and efficient network instead of creating a new one from scratch.
Examples of habit stacking
To use habit stacking you just have to complete this sentence (and obviously carry it out): After / Before [CURRENT HABIT], I'll do [NEW HABIT]. Some examples:
- Habit to meditate: After making my morning coffee, I am going to meditate for 1 minute.
- To do exercise: Before my morning shower, I am going to do 10 push-ups.
- Using dental floss: After brushing my teeth, I am going to floss.
- Habit of gratitude: Before I add my first bite to dinner, I'm going to say something I'm thankful for today.
- Habits of being in touch: After I get back from my lunch break, I am going to email someone I want to meet.
- Stretching habit: After finishing my set of squats, I will stretch my tendons.
You have patterns and behaviors that have grown stronger over the years. By linking your new habits to a cycle already built into your brain, you make it more likely that this new behavior will add seamlessly.
The next step
To start, simply write a list of the current habits that you do every day (even the most boring ones). Then write a second list of the habits you want to start. Finally, pick a new habit and pick the right place to stack it.
You need to make sure that your stacked habits are of an appropriate magnitude. Your new habit needs to be small at first and increase in magnitude as your stacking of habits pays off.
Interesting, right? Well, share it so that the rest of the world knows how to be better every day. Leave your comment sharing your reflections and while I, as always, wait for you in the next one. A big greeting and a hug, Andrea.
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