If you know anything about neuroscience it is likely you have heard about neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to build new neural networks as you gain new knowledge and build new skills. The more you get the same set of neurons firing together, the stronger the networks between them. This is why focusing on your strengths makes sense; as you do, you get better and better at them.
What is less well known is that the brain also routinely undergoes what is known as synaptic pruning. Very much like pruning in a garden, synaptic pruning is the process of clearing out the old growth that is no longer serving you. Certain cells in the brain (microglial cells) undertake this brain cleaning. In this Fast Company video, Associate Editor Rich Bellis addresses three practices that have been shown to contribute to synaptic pruning.
- “Get some sleep:” When you are sleeping, your microglial cells are working. Getting sleep allows them to clear out underused neural pathways.
- “Be mindful:” The things you focus on are the things that will develop strengthened neural networks; the things that you don’t will be pruned.
- “Spend time pondering important things before bed:” Let both your glial cells (those are the ones that build the networks) and your microglial cells know what’s important before putting them to work while you sleep.
While synaptic pruning happens naturally, intentionally focusing on these three practices can contribute to your brain cleaning.