Not being afraid to completely brick a phone is a good thing, and lets you go and play with a bunch of cool stuff.
There’s the well known cyanogenmod project – which does awesome things like have a more recent Android build for a Galaxy Nexus than what google provides.
To flash it, you’re usually told to go grab Clockwork Recovery image. This works fine to erase everything and flash Cyanogenmod (or others). However, if you want to run your phone with encryption and apply OTA updates, you’re out of luck.
Luckily there exists the Team Win Recovery Project, specifically this version (220.127.116.11 for the Galaxy Nexus) which can actually decrypt the storage from current Cyanogenmod/Android builds to apply updates, do backups etc.
It appears that it’s now possible to update your ROM without having to tether it to a computer and do a dance with adb and tmpfs. yay.