Sometimes I will be doing nothing more than walking down the street and suddenly I will feel like I’m coming up on some nice drugs. I mean, what a nice treat.
For no real reason, I will feel so damn good and be so damn happy that I can’t help but wear an energetic smile across my face while I wonder if someone slipped something in my drink that morning. I will feel on top of the world, and as far as I can tell, it is simply because of the fact that I am alive. Now that, is an amazing feeling.
Although I can’t think of any specific reason for me to be feeling so good, I figure that my brain is clearly making me feel this way for a reason. So either my brain is a mess, and confused about how lacklustre walking down a street is (very possible). Or it has a good reason to be sending some seriously good vibes my way - maybe it is saying thanks for something.
Which is when I took notice that I am not just simply walking down the street. I am walking down the street in Barcelona, Spain. Every single day my ‘normal routine’ involves me trying to speak a second language, experiencing a unique culture, building new relationships and as a result, constantly challenging my brain. I am experiencing so many new things both consciously and subconsciously that my brain is like a kid in a toy store: there are new shiny things for it to play with everywhere!
Think for a second about our bodies - whenever we finish a tough workout, we may be tired, but we feel damn good. The muscles across our body send us happy hormones after giving them strenuous exercise, that make us feel oh-so-good. Well, the brain is also a muscle and just like it’s compadres, it needs exercise in order to be happy.
But unlike the rest of our muscles which are quite easy to workout (think of them like little kids playing tick-tack-toe), our brain is quite a bit more sophisticated (like a tough chess opponent). It needs to be stimulated not by routine, but by quite the opposite: new and challenging situations. And please don't assume, like I did for years, that our brains stop developing once we become adults: there are numerous recent studies regarding Neuroplasticity which help describe how the brain continues to develop and grow throughout life.
When I think of exercising my brain I picture boring-ass-shit like solving math problems or reading a damn thesaurus. All the power to you if are into the quadratic equation or finding synonyms for the word stodgy, but if you are like me, I have found there are much more enjoyable ways to give it some exercise: pure life experience.
Now I am not saying that you need to go and move to a different country on the other side of the world just to challenge your brain. You can exercise it in all sorts of different ways, big and small:
I know these types of things are scary, and getting out of our comfort zone is a really challenging thing, but the rewards can be massive. Not only will our brains reward us by saying thanks and making us feel great with natural good vibes, but we are also able to grow leaps and bounds in the process. Things that once scared us, challenged us and maybe seemed ‘impossible’ at one point in time, will soon be easy and attainable. Plus we will learn so much about ourselves and what we are capable of in the process.
Think about life like one of those RPG video games. The ones where we get levels up and our character gets stronger and gets new abilities as we progress. When we get into a new area the enemies are usually very strong and difficult. But as we defeat them, we level up and get stronger. Those fucking giants that were once making us throw our controller against a wall in frustration, are now child’s play to defeat. BUT, if we stay in that area for too long while the enemies become easier to defeat, they also start to give us almost no experience. Soon, it is close-to impossible to upgrade to the next level!
The same goes in almost all things in life. When we start a new job it can seem utterly overwhelming and challenging, but as we get used to it, soon it becomes easier and almost routine. This is when we get comfortable. Most people would say that this level of comfort is where they want to be, but I would argue the exact opposite. At least while we are young (almost 28 is still young right? RIGHT?!).
Once things get too comfortable we are no longer challenging our brains or growing personally. Just like in the video game, we are never going to level-up staying in the same area and fighting these easy enemies; we need a challenge in order to gain that cool new skill that we have always dreamed about.
When I first got to Spain, I stayed with an older Spanish gentleman for a few nights through Couchsurfing. One evening while chatting during dinner he explained to me his theory that life is like the swell of the Ocean. Eventually you want your ocean to be calm so that it is comfortable to swim in and your waves (highs and lows) aren’t so different. But when you are young, you need the ocean to be wild, and your waves to be huge. You will go way up and then fall way back down again and again, but in the process this is how you will learn about yourself. This is how you will learn about the world. This is how you will learn what is life.
I can’t help but feel like my brain agrees with him. So if you have been feeling a little bored or stuck lately, maybe a change and a challenge could be a good thing - maybe it’s exactly what your brain needs. It can get bored swimming in the calm ocean, it needs some waves for excitement! It’s going to be hard and scary, and probably you are going to fall down along the way. But we are always going to get back up and come out on the other side a stronger, smarter and hopefully, happier person as the result.