Your Brain on College

How to wire your mind for success

YOU’RE FINALLY AN ADULT. You’ve made it to college, and now you get to decide on what to do with your life. Congrats! But you’re not done growing up. If you’re in your early twenties, your brain is still developing. The decisions you make now will not only alter the course of your future, these decisions will anatomically change your brain.

Before we explore those changes, here are some questions to consider. How much sleep did you get last night? What kind of food are you putting into your body? How much water are you drinking?

It’s still early in the semester, but your academic future might entail pulling all-nighters for coursework, skipping out on water in favor of sugary caffeine, and eating Chick-fil-A all day, every day. These options might seem convenient as you try to balance college, work, and everything else life throws at you, but making a habit out of these conveniences can be detrimental to your health and, consequently, your brain.

So, what’s changing in that cranium? Well, you’ve got 'til age 25 before you’re fully matured. Until then, your brain is shifting towards optimal integration of its regions and synthesizing the activity between them. Coincidentally, college is the ideal setting to challenge you while these higher-order cognitive capacities mature, such as abstract thinking, self-regulation, and setting and achieving goals. But you have a lot of life-altering choices to make for someone whose brain has yet to fully develop the essential parts involved in decision-making.

You have agency over how your brain develops through the habits you make. Here’s a brief explanation on the science of habit—neuroplasticity. Everything you experience is woven into a neural network where billions of specialized cells conspire to make you, you. Ever wonder why it’s so hard to break a habit? Repeated thoughts and behaviors reorganize the pathways connecting these cells. You’ll find countless examples in the routines, hobbies, and skills you use every day. These things would cease to be without neuroplasticity. A single phrase sums it all up: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

While CSU is here to help mold our success, many of us sacrifice our wellbeing to meet the demands of college. Do it enough times and your brain will be wired for harmful habits. So, whenever it’s late and you’re eyeing the clock, wondering if you can make do with six, three, or even zero hours of sleep, do your brain a favor and go to bed. No grade is worth putting yourself at an increased risk for a weakened immune system, a heart attack, and Alzheimer’s.

Sleep is that important. So are food, water, and exercise. By now, this advice sounds familiar, maybe even repetitive. You hear it all the time from health advocates when it comes to treating your body (and your brain) right. Everything mental is physical. It’s crucial that you be mindful of this as you work towards that degree.

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