I used to work in administration for a hospital, and one of my duties was to supervise the volunteers.
My favorite volunteer was Mrs. P, who was 80 years old, full of life and enthusiasm and always had a full schedule of activities going on. I'm telling you--this tiny silver haired lady had a work and social life that was more full than most people half her age!
If she wasn't volunteering at the hospital, she was organizing fund raisers for her favorite causes, taking computer classes, going to the gym 3 times a week to lift weights, playing pinochle or bridge with her friends, and sitting on various boards for the museum or the hospital or whatever.
I was just amazed at her passion and her energy, and when I asked her what her secret was she said, "I always keep trying new things. I deliberately set out to learn new activities and skills, and that's what keeps my mind sharp."
Her words have always stuck with me and made sense--by learning new things we stretch our minds, and stretching our minds increases our ability to think in creative and problem solving ways.
Recently I saw an article in the New York Times that supports this idea. Actually the New York Times article said that basically any type of new habit that we initiate has the ability to positively impact our mental dexterity and creativity:
“Getting into the stretch zone is good for you,” Ms. Ryan says in “This Year I Will... .” “It helps keep your brain healthy. It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia and Alzheimer's and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day — listen to a new radio station, for instance — found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.”
Listening to a different radio station can help you lose weight--Pretty cool, huh?
I don't understand how it all works from a scientific point of view, but it's really liberating to think that getting into the habit of adding on new habits (even simple ones like brushing our hair using our opposite hand, or interlacing our hands with a different thumb on top) can tweak something in our brains that frees us to act differently in seemingly unrelated parts of our lives.
This is something I want to try more of in my life and you may want to experiment with it too.
Is there something in your life that you want to change but have been having difficulty with? Try implementing a new habit in another area of your life (take a different route home when you're driving around doing errands, listen to different types of music, or something else like that) and open yourself to the possibility that new habits create opportunities for change in other areas of your life.