Here Are the Simple Lifestyle Changes I Use to Upgrade My Brain

Small changes to grow your brain big time

Technically, your mind isn’t a muscle. But it can still grow and learn from training.

In reality, your mind is plastic. The neural networks in your brain change through growth and reorganization.

We all know this from experience:

  • Learning a new skill is only possible when new neural connections are formed in your brain

  • Repeated practice makes us better in a particular task — how? By strengthening the neural connections.

  • Environmental influences change our behavior and how we think — again for the same reason.

For most of us, the highest period of neuroplasticity happens in our childhood. That’s when we’re making sense of the world and learning at a massive rate.

But as we grow up, that spirit somehow gets lost. We stop learning as much.

Scientists too thought neuroplasticity manifests only during the early years of a human. But research in the latter half of the 20th century showed that many aspects of the brain can be altered even through adulthood.

Let’s see how you can bring that sort of magic back into your lives.

Building Your Mental Gym

A fit brain is resilient, prone to fewer diseases, and slows down its cognitive decline. Of course, as a result of a better brain, you get higher concentration, awareness, focus, etc.

This is why many computer-based training programs have emerged to train the brain. And it’s no joke — it’s a billion-dollar industry.

But brain growth is not about downloading an app on your smartphone.

In fact, research suggests that playing such games to improve your brain may not be effective at all. All it may do at the end of the day is to improve your performance at that game.

However, another research does tell us what slows cognitive decline— lifestyle changes.

These include creative pursuits, learning new skills, having healthy social interactions, and so on. And they are arguably more effective than any smartphone game when it comes to training your brain.

That said, building your own mental gym requires you to make a few tweaks to your life.

How to approach brain training

I’ve long sought different techniques to upgrade my brain, even when I was 8 years old. I did sudoku puzzles with my grandfather every day. Then, I started playing scrabble and other brain games.

These were all fine and dandy. But it wasn’t going to make me a genius — because apart from the game, I spent all my time watching TV, playing mobile games, and eating chips.

Like physical training, brain training is a 24/7 activity. Just as physical training requires not only a workout but also proper nutrition and sleep, brain training needs round-the-clock care.

Take for instance meditation. Many people take up meditation to improve their concentration and awareness. They set aside ten minutes every day for their practice.

But as soon as their session is over, they come back to their restless state of being. They rush through their work and are distracted all day long.

That is not enough. You don’t do a single workout and then eat burgers all day long right? Similarly, you need to (in this case) make sure to carry that state of heightened awareness in everything you do.

On a broader level, you need to constantly ask yourself if what you’re doing is training your mind for the right thing.

This question needs to be running at the back of your mind so you can catch yourself slacking off.

That said, let’s see specific ways you can train your brain.

Sleep, Exercise, and Nutrition

These are the basics of health and personal improvement. I’m guessing you already know the value of sleep and exercise.

A couple of points about nutrition:

Your brain needs you to eat healthy fats. Focus on fish oils from wild salmon, nuts such as walnuts, seeds such as flaxseed and olive oil. Eat more of these foods and less saturated fats. An Omega-3 rich diet promotes better brain function.

Only once you implement these three can you think about other ways of improving your brain.

They are the tripod on which your mental gym stands. Mess these up at your own peril.

The Indispensable Practice

If someone asks me for one habit that I’d give to someone struggling to get his life together, it would be meditation.

Meditating for just 10 minutes per day will change the brain in only 8 weeks.

According to a famous study in NeuroReport, *which I describe in detail in my book, *meditation is directly linked with increased cortical thickness in the brain.

Again, in a 2012 study, researchers compared brain images from 50 adults who meditate and 50 adults who don’t meditate. Results suggested that people who practiced meditation for many years have more folds in the outer layer of the brain. This process (called gyrification) increases the brain’s ability to process information.

Meditation strengthens the left hippocampus, which helps us learn new things, improves memory, and contributes to emotional regulation.

It also enhances present moment awareness by building density in the posterior cingulate.

I started meditating two years ago on my own. After 6 months I realized the need of learning proper techniques and being more regular. Going to a meditation class was the best thing I’d done for my brain and life.

Saying that my life changed would be an understatement. There’s no word I can think of to describe the transformation I’ve gone through.

I’ve become calmer, productive, God-remembering, and blissful.

My past-self wouldn’t have believed these facts. But it’s possible — for me and for you.

The more you meditate, the more you’ll find these benefits sticking around even when you’re not meditating.

There’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t get started with meditation today.

Learning a New Skill

“Never stop learning. Because life never stops teaching.” — Lin Pernille

In simple terms, you challenge your brain when you learn something new. You form new neural pathways and connections in your brain.

In fact, research shows that it’s one of the best ways to keep your brain sharp. It may also help you cope with stress.

I’ve never been satisfied with doing one thing in life. It’s not that I’m distracted. It’s that I’m always looking for ways to break out of complacency.

As a kid, I learned to play tabla and many other percussion instruments, keyboard, did theatre, debating, public speaking, performed at musical events, and so on. I sought much more than the monotony of my textbooks.

In college, I studied accounting, economics, and business. I learned to code and built my own startup to work with national clients. I worked with two other startups after that. This was also the time when I got seriously into meditation. And at the moment, I’m devoted to writing.

This is not to brag (and I hope writing this doesn’t fuel my ego). The point is that the more you learn the sharper your brain will become.

This will push you to learn more things. It’s a positive, upward wave that you want to ride.

**How can you implement this in your life? **There’s not much thinking to do— just get started with anything new that interests you. Read a book, listen to a podcast, watch a TED talk, learn a new instrument, etc.

You just need to get started. Life will take care of itself soon.

Be Creative

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” ― Rumi

Science shows that practicing activities like music, drawing, arts and crafts stimulate our brain in a way that enhances our health and well-being. These activities also have a positive impact on our emotional resilience.

There’s a psychological satisfaction in creating. If you’ve ever created something you know what I’m talking about.

Yes, it can be a struggle. But all those times of struggle seem worth it when the final result is in front of you.

Creativity is the number one skill people are looking for in every field. And there’s good news — it can come from practice.

Writing and music (playing instruments) are my forms of creative expression. Plus, they make me a good thinker and problem solver. The more you create, the more your brain improves.

It’s no mystery that the best people in any profession have at least one other hobby they’re seriously devoted to. Think about Einstein with his piano and Churchill with his [Painting as a Pastime](

Creativity increases cognitive flexibility which is the brain’s ability to hold opposing ideas together. This skill helps you to navigate stress better and find effective solutions to problems in life.

Do Nothing

“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” — Pascal

The power of boredom is amazing if you let it enter your life.

Sadly, most of us spend our free time trying to escape that feeling. Examples include mindlessly scrolling social media, binge-watching, gossiping, and so on.

The problem is, we have an ever-increasing amount of novelty around us. Centuries ago, if I was bored, well, I was bored. I had no choice. It’s just a fact of life. Every moment of life was not supposed to be filled with something exciting.

When you embrace boredom, you embrace the uncomfortable feeling of being alone. You embrace the stillness that comes when you’re devoid of constant stimuli.

That stillness is priceless. It teaches you to be focused and concentrated. Plus, that’s where all your ideas actually come from.

Distractions like TV, Netflix, games, and social media are pseudo-relaxers. You may think you’re relaxing, but in the end, you become numb to reality.

Boredom is real relaxation. It helps your brain reset and come out stronger on the other side.

In any case, it’s a must-have lifestyle habit in your efforts to train your mind.

Kindness and Forgiveness

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ― Alexander Pope

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Because when you think of others, you feel better. When you think only of yourself, you reinforce negative, egoic qualities.

Putting the needs of others in front of us makes us happy and gives us a sense of purpose. Plus, it releases oxytocin which combats inflammation and stress.

Kindness strengthens your whole being — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Related to kindness is another trait that can make or break your wellbeing — forgiveness.

Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of a heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.

Whether it’s a small argument with your spouse or a big fight at work, an unresolved conflict goes deeper inside you than you can imagine. There’s an enormous emotional, physical, and spiritual burden in being hurt and disappointed.

We all need to learn to let go. To offer our love and compassion, first to ourselves, and then to those who hurt us.

Then, just like the unresolved conflict created a ruckus inside you, forgiveness will help you soar in the heavens of happiness.

The more you practice kindness and forgiveness, the happier you get. That, above all, has more impact on your brain than you know.

Protect your mind, body, and soul from the pools of hatred and negativity.

Reduce or Eliminate TV

“The average TV commercial of sixty seconds has one hundred and twenty half-second clips in it, or one-third of a second. We bombard people with sensation. That substitutes for thinking.” ― Ray Bradbury,

The average person watches more than four hours of television every day. It doesn’t take a lot of science for you to know it’s bad for your brain.

Most people only focus on the opportunity cost of time spent watching TV. Yes, that’s a valid point — you could’ve spent that time exercising, reading, or spending time with family.

But there’s another reason why I try to cut down on TV. It hurts your concentration big time.

Think about it. To concentrate you need to focus on one thing for a long period of time. But when you watch TV, the scene changes every two seconds. Even the audio and songs are fast-paced that get you excited instead of keeping you calm.

You might be tempted to think that it’s a good way to relax. But you are not relaxing — your mind is still receiving stimuli from the TV. You are processing information and reacting emotionally.

Find healthier ways to relax that will at least not harm your brain directly.

Be Responsible For Your Thoughts

We may not be responsible for the first thought that comes to our mind. But we are responsible for those that come after it — Anonymous

You are not your thoughts. You’re the observer of those thoughts. These thoughts come from our past beliefs, experiences, and most importantly, our state of consciousness.

What thoughts come to us may be out of our control. But what we do with that thought is our responsibility.

If you have a thought you don’t want, you need to train yourself to reject it completely. To not let the stranger sit around the house for tea!

Practice stepping back from all your thoughts and question their validity.

There’s an enormous opportunity for growth between the first and the second thought. How you use that opportunity is up to you.

The more you practice this, the easier it will become.

Catch and End Rumination

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” ― Marcus Aurelius

Rumination is one of the major causes of unhappiness. Humans have a tendency to think negative thoughts if left to ourselves.

When you ruminate, you’re much less likely to think about the award you won last year but about all the things wrong with life. From then on, you get caught in a downward spiral of negativity that can seriously hurt your mood and affect your life.

This, like everything else, is a mental habit. Which means you can change it. How?

The next time you catch yourself ruminating, bring your attention back to the present. If you’re meditating, this would be easier.

Nevertheless, just try to feel through the senses — what do you see or hear right now? Focus on that.

It will take some time to break that habit. But the sooner you’ll start, the sooner you’ll see the benefits.


“What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” — Eckhart Tolle

Humans have a quirky need to control everything. We try to control circumstances, situations, and others’ behavior. But that’s a one-way ticket to the land of stress and anxiety.

It’s hard to surrender because our egos get in between. We want to feel important and in control. We want to feel we’re the captain of our ship.

But, my friend, that’s just not true. Whether you believe in a higher power or not doesn’t matter. It makes sense logically. 99.999% of the things in this world happen without you doing anything. To think that you can somehow exert your own will over what life has in store for you is absurd.

I’m not telling you to go become a hermit and sit in a room contemplating all day.

Instead, make it a point to let go of your likes, dislikes, and reactions. Face the world with complete acceptance.

Think of it like this. The river of life has a flow. It has a flow defined for our collective lives as well as our individual lives. Try to see the direction of the flow and find ways to move along with it.

In simpler words, see what’s trying to happen and then put out the energy to make that happen.

You can only know this with the power of intuition. God will not scream out of the sky to tell you what you should do. And the only way to develop that intuition is through meditation.

As you try to flow with life more and more, you’ll be exponentially happier and the road will be easier.

To learn more about this idea, read The Surrender Experiment.

Struggling to meditate? Get your free 5 Day email course — Meditation 101: How to Start Meditating

Written on January 7, 2021