• Dr Jodie Bradnam

To see the world with fresh eyes, we have to be willing to make new tracks.

Neural pathways are like well-worn tracks through an open field. To see the world with new eyes, we have to be willing to make new tracks. When we repeat a behaviour or engage in a routine activity we consolidate neural pathways. Once established, these well defined pathways increase the probability that we will repeat a task or activity in exactly the same way. This is helpful, of course, and explains how we develop mastery and learn new skills.

We can imagine the neural connections in the brain as a large field of waist high, long grass. Over time, as we master activities and strengthen neural pathways, we mow well worn, distinct tracks through the grassy field. Each time we learn a new behaviour or create a shift in our routine, we create a new track through the uncut grass. We literally create alternate neural pathways by engaging new activities or completing routine tasks in a novel way. As we create new tracks, we increase our behavioural flexibility and enhance our resilience. We become more adaptable, responsive and creative in our approaches to life's challenges.

Think back to the first time you drove a manual car. It probably required a little concentration....Depress the clutch, shift into first gear, remove the hand brake and accelerate smoothly. It probably took a while to gain your confidence and to connect these tasks together. With each driving lesson, and each gear change, you were strengthening the neural pathway for driving. You were creating a new track through that long grass. Before long, through repetition, the pathway is set. We become more comfortable and confident drivers. We can drive and talk at the same time, change gears, listen to the radio and sing - all at once. The behaviour is hard wired and our gear changes shift into a more "automatic zone". We are following a well worn track.

These neural pathways are helpful and explain how we develop mastery over repeated tasks. Over time, however, we can develop habits that don't necessarily serve us all that well. By repeating daily tasks in exactly the same way, we can begin to live on "autopilot". Well worn pathways through the grassy field can become rigid routines that offer little excitement and life can lose a little sparkle. Although we seek familiarity and safety in times of fear and distress, our brains are wired for novelty. New experiences are how we learn and grow. When we challenge our routines, we see the world with fresh eyes. And, in doing so, we welcome moments of mindful awareness and gratitude. We add new tracks to the grassy field. As we seek novelty in our daily activity we create alternate pathways. Small changes can make a big difference to our experience of the world. Challenge yourself this week to modify your routine. Drive a different route to work perhaps, or eat your lunch outside in a space you’ve not explored before; shift the photos on your work desk or cut your children’s sandwiches in a novel shape; take a bath instead of shower, switch seats at the dinner table, or take a walk in the rain. Notice how your lens on familiar, daily tasks begins to change. Notice how much more present, aware and mindful you become of the world around you. To see the world with new eyes, we have to be willing to make new tracks.