Did you know that you can use your workout time to also exercise your brain? I learned this trick from TV presenter Osher Gunsberg, while listening to his podcast, The Osher Gunsberg Podcast, in which he interviews “success stories” – including our very own publisher, Mia Freedman.
Osher’s trick involves chanting while you exercise, which combines the practice of meditation with physical exertion, with a dash of cognitive behaviour therapy thrown in there, too. It sounds crazy, but like all crazy things – such as cat cafes – it’s awesome, helpful and completely plausible.
On the one-year anniversary of his podcast, Gunsberg discussed his practice of chanting while running or cycling:
The idea is that you chant a present-tense, positive, if-then program into your head.
For example, so, you’re really nervous about a job interview, and you’re worried about getting asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, and in the past you’ve blushed or panicked.
You can say [to yourself], “If I don’t know the answer, I’ll smile and say, ‘I’ll get back to you.'” And you jog, and you repeat it in time with your breaths and your steps. And what happens is you’re kind of digging this neural pathway into your brain. This is what I’ve found anyway, don’t know if it’s true, but it works for me somehow.
And then, in that moment, later on, when you’re in that job interview and someone asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, you go, ‘You know what? Can I get back to you on that?’
I’ve found I can rewrite my automatic behaviours by doing that. I do it now, when I’m cycling, even though my cadence when I’m cycling is much faster than when I’m jogging. (Post continues after gallery.)
He further described an alternative method for creating his chanting mantra:
The other thing that I do, is that if I’ve got something that’s bothering me, if my brain’s being irrational, trying to process something, telling me the world’s gonna end, I’ll sit down and I’ll write out a rational response to the irrational thought, and I’ll take the rational response out, and I’ll jog with the rational response, just repeating it, like a mantra, and it makes everything feel a lot better. But that’s just what works for me.
While it might sound a little out there to some, Rachel Clements, director of psychological services at Centre for Corporate Health reckons it could be very helpful for those suffering from mental illness, or those wanting to improve their thought patterns.
“A lot of research from neuropsychology shows that most of our thinking is based on habits,” she says.
"Over X amount of years of thinking in certain ways, we’ve developed thinking habits, such as worrisome or pessimistic thinking," explains Clements. "We’ve formed neural pathways."
Clements describes a neural pathway as "a little train track in the brain that allows us to think and process information". Impulses get sent from the brain via this "train track", which then cause us to think or behave in a certain way.
"If an event happens to us, such as a job interview, we go straight down the neural pathway that’s been built up over years and years," adds Clements.
"So, what Osher’s saying, is that he’s trying to create a new neural pathway, and it can be done. We can unlearn unhelpful ways of thinking, and intentionally and effortfully learn something new. It does work."