Goldilocks and her amazing brain
Your brain is the ultimate analogue supercomputer, currently light-years ahead of anything man has so far managed to create. But to offer you its full capacity, your brain needs just the right neurochemistry before it’s firing on all cylinders.
To help achieve that optimum state, here are 8 essential activities you can engage your brain in to improve your brain’s performance, each and every day.
1. Sleep Time
Sleep is vitally important to the brain. For the supercomputer that is constantly working overtime, this is the closest it comes to going offline, powering-down different parts of the brain as we drift off to sleep.
When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate the learning and recover from the experiences of today. And we recharge our brains ready for tomorrow.
If you are having difficulty getting to sleep, there are several things you can do to help your brain. Keep all technology and screens out of the bedroom; no work or exercise (except sex) 60 minutes before bedtime; no hot showers or baths (your brain needs time to cool in preparation for sleep). And no heavy conversations about serious topics just before bed.
2. Focus Time
When we zero-in on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain. These new connections come with a dose of useful neurotransmitters like adrenaline and dopamine that gets us inspired, motivated and into focused action.
This Focus Time in our routines is crucial for moving our big change projects forward. To make sure it happens, schedule-in Focus Time and avoid the daily grind consuming the entire day. To capitalise on it further, schedule your Focus Time for your best times of day – for most of us, in the morning. And before you look at email!
3. Connection Time
The brain is hugely social (including at work). There’s plenty of neuroscientific research that shows social considerations are as important to the brain as our primary survival needs.
When we connect with other people, especially in person, and when we take the time to appreciate our connections to the world around us, we activate the brain’s relational circuitry. We feel involved and included, we generate new thoughts and ideas, we feel a sense of contribution. All good brain-friendly stimuli.
4. Experiential Time
One feature that makes the human brain so very special is neuroplasticity: its ability to continuously change, learn and adapt to unexpected and varying circumstances in novel and creative ways.
When we enjoy novel experiences, allow ourselves to be spontaneous and creative, are adventurous and try new things, we help make new connections in the brain. Purposefully seek-out new experiences to feed your brain – even if just a different route to work.
5. Physical Time
Exercise is great for the brain. And unlike the dedicated time necessary to see visible changes in your body, there are several noticeable improvements in your brain almost immediately as a result of exercise.
Exercise immediately means more blood to the brain: blood that is richer in oxygen and sugars to energise your brain. It can also positively change your mood in an instant: and since you can’t have a thought without a feeling, or a feeling with a thought, good moods = good thinking.
Exercise can also have a rhythmical, almost meditative quality to it, encouraging unconscious thoughts to surface. Exercise encourages new insights – and quietens your mind enough to have those insights be noticeable. I know I can’t remember the last time I returned from my run or my ride without having a great idea.
6. Puzzle Time
Working on the crossword, Sudoku or a jigsaw provides a little mental challenge and stretch – which the brain loves – without any intense feelings like despair. And finishing those puzzles stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, so feels good too.
This is not the same as saying it will directly improve the brain’s function. But gentle, non-taxing mental stimuli are great ways for the brain to relax and unplug from the incessant demands it is otherwise under.
7. Mindful Time
Mindfulness has become well-known of late. And most people know it takes a lot of deliberate practice to really engage in it fully. But we don’t have to go too far for our brain to see the benefits of this “time in”.
When we simply reflect internally, quietly focusing on sensations, images, thoughts and feelings, we help to better integrate the brain; and we take that balance forward into our day.
8. Down Time
Not the same as sleep, Down Time is when we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and simply relax and let our minds wander. This gives our brains a break and time enough to recharge.
To introduce more Down Time into your routine, you might like to focus less on what you need to start doing, and more on what you need to stop doing.
The changing of nature of work has many more of us today being challenged to think for a living. The best way to meet that challenge is to look after your brain.
By engaging time in each of these 8 activities, you enable your brain to coordinate and balance itself, strengthen its internal connections and have it firing on all cylinders. Each and every day.