Can we train our brains too?

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I headed out to The Land of 10,000 Lakes to shoot a feature and realized one of my favorite things about traveling is coming across a state slogan or saying I’ve never heard before. It’s like a little fortune cookie– a random surprise waiting to be cracked open and playfully bounced around the brain in a dozen different directions!

“Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes”
Seriously, is that true? Who was that person who decided to start counting all the lakes? What kind of personality does a person like that have? And did he or she round-up or just give up after they hit the 10,000 mark? Why count lakes in the first place? To associate Minnesota with something other than snow?

Here’s another one for ya:
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What does that mean????

Imagine when I first heard that Indiana was called The Hoosier State (my brain went into overdrive). New, random thoughts sparkling up the mind. I love it! I can just FEEL the new synapses forming in my brain! (I’m not a neurosurgeon, but from what I understand, synapses are pathways that light up between one neuron and another whenever you think a new thought!) I imagine synapses look like this:

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That “feeling” is FOR REAL by the way. I just read that you can actually carve out new neural pathways in your brain, just by thinking new thoughts. And you can widen the pathways you already have by continuing to think the same thoughts over and over. And the wider the tunnel, the faster and easier it is for your brain to travel down that particular thought-path/tunnel again. Like building a canal… the more you dig, the wider the canal gets, and the faster the water flows through it.

As you can imagine, these “brain canals” can work for us or against us. For instance, if we have the same negative thoughts everyday like, What if I fail at this? What if this falls through? What if I never (fill-in-the-blank)? Every time we let our brains go down that path, we’re digging a wider and wider tunnel, making it easier and easier for our thoughts to flow down that thought-path again when given the opportunity. Doctors say that’s one of the reasons why a person’s anxiety can get worse and worse over time… a thought-path that starts out as narrow as a pinhole can be chipped away thought by thought, day by day, until its the size of a log flume, so that—when given a chance, an idle moment— thoughts automatically flow down that anxious path again and again. The good news is, this process works the same way when we consistently think good thoughts. Yay!!! (?????)

We can really train our brains???

I know, I was skeptical too, so I did my own experiment.

Remember how Jonathan said I needed to work on my confidence? I figured I might as well start with that. The research says, if you want to create a new habit, you need to make a concerted effort to do that action consistently for at least 30 days for it to become second nature. So for the past few weeks, every time I caught myself thinking a mean thought about myself, I would force myself to think about something that’s positive like, I’m a really good problem-solver or that dinner I made last night came out fantastic! Sometimes, if a really big confidence-crushing thought creeps up, I’ll just straight-up say the word STOP out loud to force my brain to switch gears and think about something positive instead.

(Tip: When I’m out in public and this happens, I just hold my phone up to my ear and pretend there’s someone on the other end that I’m saying STOP to. Just out of common courtesy to keep the people around me at ease. Talking to yourself tends to make people antsy.)

Anyway, it must be working. A couple of friends have made remarks that I seem so much more self-assured, comfortable taking up space, my posture’s changed, there’s a new sense of confidence about me lately. And…the kicker is… I FEEL it too. Pretty powerful stuff, huh?

Brain Train Exercise #2: Remember how I used to come up with any excuse to skip a work-out when traveling? I don’t have enough time, I’ll be late to my shoot, the hotel gym is lame-o.
Exhibit A:
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Well, these last few weeks, every time an excuse popped up in my head, I told myself JUST GO and yes, sometimes I said it out loud, using my handy pretend phone-call trick. :) And now, it’s automatic. I JUST GO and workout. So far, I’ve had zero interruptions in my workout schedule despite all the traveling and sub-par hotel fitness centers. Like I’m on auto-pilot, I just work through it and problem-solve different ways to use a treadmill and a random assortment of dumbbells to get my workout done, pack an exercise band and workout in my hotel room, etc.

The bonus is, when you do come across a nice hotel gym, it’s another fortune-cookie moment— Surprise! Thank you Minneapolis Radisson Blu!
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Nice. Minnesota Nice.
(Another saying to get your synapses going)

It was Chest Day that day, and I could almost feel my pecs smiling at their luck!

1. Cross-Over Push Ups
First to get the heart pumping and warm-up (those Minnesotans kept it cold in that fitness center, don’t cha know, eh?) I did cross-over pushups, basically going from one end of the room to the other sideways in a plank position while doing push-ups in between.
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So starting off in a plank position with my hands wider than shoulder width to really target the outer pecs (that annoying area that likes to bunch up from time to time when wearing sleeveless dresses) and keeping my feet close together, I did a push-up.
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Then I crossed my left hand under my right and at the same time, picked my right foot up and stepped it way out to the right widening my legs further apart.
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From there, I uncrossed my arms by pulling my right hand out and planting it out to my right side and at the same time, bringing my left foot in closer to my right to get me back to my original plank position.
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Then, I did another push-up.
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And repeated: Cross-over push-up, Cross-over push-up until I ran out of room. Then worked my way back across the room, crossing over to the left this time, until I couldn’t hold myself up anymore. Took a break and did 2 more sets just like that, alternating each set with a set of Machine Flies (I like alternating between pushing and pulling exercises to hit every muscle fiber I can).

2. Machine Flies
(Oh the luxury of having a machine!) Adjusting the seat to make sure my arms were at 90 degree angles, I did as many reps as I could (about 14 reps) with 25 lbs.
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3. Chest Press
Adjusting the seat to make sure the handles were in line with my shoulders, I did as many as I could (about 12-15 reps) setting the plates at 45 lbs.
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I alternated 3 sets of these with Downward Cable “Hugs.”

4. Downward Cable “Hugs”
Adjusting the cables so the handles were over my head and bending over at the waist at about 45 degrees
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I pulled the handles down and around
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as if I was hugging a big bear below me. Why I pictured a big bear? I don’t know. Must’ve been feeling adventurous that day.
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By the way, the saying Minnesota Nice is spot-on! Here I am, running around the gym, trying to prop up and balance my phone on anything I could (treadmills, weight racks) to take these photos and I didn’t get one raised eyebrow or skeptical stare…

Or maybe it was because I did it with confidence… it wasn’t awkward at all. 😉

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