This goes to the heart of what many good chess authors, including Silman and Rowson, have suggested as the prescription for adult chess improvers: Our thinking about chess in general, and how to choose a move in particular, tends to become routine, stale, stereotypical if we don't make special efforts to go beyond what we are comfortable with. We hit plateaus when we apply the same limited set of tools all the time. We need to break out of that comfort zone, even if we go backwards temporarily in rating, in order to lay the groundwork for a higher plateau. To break down our game like a muscle that lifts some heavy weights, and thus becomes stronger. Then, presumably, do it all over again at our next plateau...(ouch!).
Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.
Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.
“There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”
Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.
A few easy steps that you could take come to mind. First, you could change up your openings, throw something out there that you've never played before; if you're an "e4 player" go to 1. c4 and don't study it too much in advance--try working it out on the board from move one. Or look into something like Hugh Myer's researches or even Benjamin and Schiller's Unorthodox Openings.
Something I've tried occasionally in blitz games with fair success is what might be called "Doing nothing and doing it well," that is, going totally contrary to my usual style and just developing pieces behind my own lines with no early intent to attack at all. Usually the "other guy" soon feels the need to attack and I end up with a tactical battle as good as any other, but it's interesting how doing this gives a new perspective on the game.
Who's to say
Well they forgot
This world keeps spinning
And with each new day
I can feel a change in everything
And as the surface breaks reflections fade
But in some ways they remain the same
And as my mind begins to spread its wings
There's no stoppin' curiosity
I want to turn the whole thing upside down...