Schedule your day to boost your brain backed by science
From a young age, my parents and teachers taught me how to care for my body. Yet the same was not true for how to take care of my brain and my mental health. And I am not alone. So, why aren’t we taught this as well?
With this in mind, two scientists working together asked the same question. Dr. Daniel J. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. Dr. David Rock is the executive director of the NeuroLeadership Institute. (I also strongly recommend his books Your Brain at Work and Quiet Leadership.) In collaboration, they summarized and integrated neuroscience and psychology research to find a solution.
Here’s what Drs. Siegel and Rock created to answer the question: The Healthy Mind Platter.
You guessed it, the visual framework of the Healthy Mind Platter was inspired by the USDA’s revised dietary guidelines, My Plate. Rather than dietary recommendations, the Healthy Mind Platter offers guidelines on how we can spend our time. In addition, the tips support both our wellbeing and our inner growth.
It all boils down to seven essential “mental nutrients” for optimal mental health. The Healthy Mind Platter suggests we do these activities daily. If we do, both our brains and our relationships will function better. So, what are you waiting for?
The trick is to schedule these seven activities into your day.
Mental health time tip #1: Sleep
First of all, getting a full night’s restful sleep helps our mental health as well as our physical health. While we sleep, our brains consolidate what we learned and experienced during the day. Since sleep is so important, try creating an evening ritual that promotes restful sleep. Finally, click here if you want to read a newsletter I wrote focused on sleep.
Mental health time tip #2: Get physical
Next, exercising helps both our mental and physical health. I know that I always am in a better mood after a rush of endorphins post exercise. Therefore, take the time every day to be active and move your body.
According to Drs. Rock and Siegel, “When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.”
Yet if you don’t feel good while you exercise, you won’t do it. My choices are tennis, walking, and yoga. What physical activities will help you feel the way you want to feel while doing them (and afterward)?
Mental health time tip #3: Focus
Do you ever finish a day and realize that you didn’t get any work done? And then it hits you that you didn’t have any time alone to focus and concentrate on important tasks.
“When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain,” according to Drs. Siegel and Rock.
Here’s how I solve this…
During my weekly review, I figure out what three things I need to do the following week. Then, I map these out in my Desire Map planner. In addition, every day I try to have at least one power hour where I focus on one of those three things.
Mental health time tip #4: Tune in
We need to take “time in” for activities like meditation, prayer, and self-reflection.
“When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, helping to better integrate the brain.”
Source: Healthy Mind Platter
My weekly review is half planning and half self-reflection. Every week, I use my planner to journal about what went well, what didn’t, what I’m grateful for, and what I learned.
Mental health time tip #5: Downtime
In this case, getting sent to “time out” is a good thing. We all need time to be and to rest. Let your mind wander and daydream. Don’t anything at all. When we relax, our brains recharge. If we give our electronics devices time to recharge, we should do better for our minds.
Instead of a focus on doing, focus on how you want to feel during your downtime. For me, I want to feel hygge, free from stress, and a deep connection to the present moment.
Mental health time tip #6: Playtime
Every afternoon, neighborhood kids knock on my front door. They ask my son, “Can you come out and play?”
Adults need to play too. We need time to have fun and enjoy ourselves.
“When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, which helps make new connections in the brain.”
For me, tennis is play time as well as physical activity. I also love to read, board games, and to play ping pong.
Vacations are an excellent time to play and try new things. Do you have your next holiday scheduled? Please tell me that you use all your vacation time every year and don’t let the precious time to play go to waste.
What enjoyable activities help you to feel the way you want to feel?
Mental health time tip #7: Connection
Finally, taking the time to connect with our loved ones and friends is essential to our mental health. In particular, connecting in person.
“When we connect with other people, ideally in person, or take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, richly activating the brain’s relational circuitry.”
I love that connecting time also includes time to connect with nature. Why not get together with a friend in nature? To learn more about the hidden health benefits of the woods and a nature pyramid, check out this article I wrote.
Want improved mental health?
In conclusion, here’s a suggestion of how to use the Healthy Mind Platter.
First, map out an average day and see what percentage of your time you spend in each area. Next, of the seven ways to spend your time, is there an area you have not been paying much attention to? Perhaps there is an area where you spend a lot of time? Now, you know where to begin to create a well-balanced mental diet for yourself.
Finally, to learn more about the Healthy Mind Platter, read this article from the NeuroLeadership Institute.
Also published on Medium.