The key to most areas of self-improvement, from diet to productivity, revolve around processes not pills.
Here the 80/20 rule or Pareto principle applies, the 20% that gives you the 80% of the results and rewards.
You have to do all these things.
Yes, most of this you already know. Or you think you do. But for example do you really understand the importance of sleep? How it works? And do you actually do these things?
Rate yourself 0-10 on all points and see what you come up with.
1. Good brain food, because you are what you eat.
Here are ten foods that are neuroprotective, in no particular order
- Avocados – fatty fruit, good monosaturated fat the helps keep healthy blood flow
- Blueberries – otherwise known as brainberries SMILE, you can see more on them here
- Broccoli – horrible taste aside, it is rich with Vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower
- Coconut oil – helps create the ketones that fuel your brain and improve cognition*
- Eggs – memory-improving cholines, Omega 3, Vitamin E
- Green Leafy Vegetables – good sources of vitamin E and, importantly, folate
- Salmon – rich in Omega 3 DHA essential fatty acids (Sardines and others could join this list)
- Turmeric – because it has to show up on all lists these days, it’s the new Scandinavia of foods! Turmeric improves your brain’s oxygen intake (as if it wasn’t busy protecting you on other fronts), so it keeps you alert and better able to process information
- Walnuts – high levels of antioxidants, Vitamin E, protects your neurons and wards off brain-aging conditions and high levels of zinc and magnesium, which help to regulate your mood
- Dark Chocolate – just pretend your milk chocolate is dark chocolate. Sigh. Helps you focus, concentrate, stimulates endorphins which also improve your mood
* this is the shakiest one. The effect may be temporary
To get you in the spirit, I will grade myself on this one.
I could come up with a different list but for this one, I give myself a 6. But maybe I deserve a 7 because I over-do salmon and turmeric : ) ?
2. Mindfulness Makes You Smarter
Is that true? The research is not definitive. But mindfulness can certainly help you. ‘In the research it was discovered that mindfulness cannot only positively impact attention, it can also help improve cognition, emotions, physiology and even behavior’ .
Mindfulness also helps with some of the other items on this list like number 3 and can be integrated well into number 4 and work a little magic on number 8.
So it’s the equivalent of a super-duper food!
3. Managing Negativity Bugs
We are infected by a negativity bias. It’s a fact and a matter of human evolution. We assume there’s a tiger around the bend waiting to eat us.
The best we can do in daily life is to swat the negativity bugs whenever they buzz by: the automatic negative thoughts from self-talk.
We get addicted to negative thoughts, and we ‘love’ to complain. This becomes a habit.
And habits rewire our brain.
People naturally dread losses more than they savour gains, criticism stings more than praise elevates. We have better memory for things that go wrong than right. Let’s say at work, your idea of proposal gets accepted. You are so pleased, you even tell your friends.
But if an idea dear to you is rejected, that failure sticks in your mind longer. In fact, studies have shown that negative information seems to even require greater information processing resources and activity than does positive information
4. Exercising for the brain
This is obvious but not until relatively recently did we understand what a boost in brain branpower exercise actually affords. You have your brain primarily to control your body. Exercise enables brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain.
Research at UCLA showed that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.
People who exercise will do better on
- mental acuity tests
- focus tests
- memory tests
Personally, to take this 1 step further, I myself often use a water rower and plot out ocean expeditions with the help of audio books about explorers such as Magellan or Cook. But that’s just me : )
5. Peer Group: Who Do you Hang out With
This cannot be overemphasized. It’s so important, not just to flush out toxic relationships but to actively join with positive, enthusiastic, creative, interesting and interested people.
We all have mirror neurons and we imitate one another’s habits, behaviours, and thought patterns.
Someone once said that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. That’s not quite right, but the idea is powerfully suggestive and echoes what we know to be true: surround yourself with good, clever, positive people. It helps.
6. Why sleep is important for the brain
Perhaps few of us appreciate how and why it is SO important.
Let’s put it this way, for example, without citing references (I used to run a sleep-related company so I’ll stand in for expertise): at least 30% of Americans are sleep deprived. Extreme sleep deprivation makes you functionally drunk. Most American drive (a lot!).
More to the point:
Sleep is where you:
- Consolidate your short and long term memory
- Clean out the plaque that can lead to brain-aging challenges
We don’t know exactly what roles dreams play but we have very educated guesses.
Dreaming, one study suggests, functions like ‘overnight therapy’. The study states ‘REM-sleep dreaming appears to take the painful sting out of difficult, even traumatic, emotional episodes experienced during the day, offering emotional resolution when you awake the next morning…..REM sleep is the only time when our brain is completely devoid of the anxiety-triggering molecule noradrenaline. At the same time, key emotional and memory-related structures of the brain are reactivated during REM sleep as we dream. This means that emotional memory reactivation is occurring in a brain free of a key stress chemical, which allows us to re-process upsetting memories in a safer, calmer environment‘.
It is only recently that we have understood the waste-clearing system that operates while we sleep. When this doesn’t occur, a plaque buildup takes place, which can ultimately lead to dementia.
Women in particular should take a look at this study as it highlights the times in a woman’s life when she is most vulnerable to sleep deprivation
For those struggling with sleep issues it is worth checking this out
And for anyone who snores or suffers from sleep apnea, there are many cumbersome medical applications, but you might be better off looking at this:
Obstructive sleep apnea affects almost 1 billion people wordwide, and can have serious health consequences.
7. Learning new stuff. Duh!
Reading, developing your sense of wonder and curiosity, and your critical thinking abilities.
That is: Learning new things.
Or: Neurogenesis (new brain cells) and neuroplasticity (new connections)
This might be the most self-evident of them all, but many people get stuck in old ruts or overwhelmed by the demands of daily life. If you commute or if you exercise, consider audiobooks. Learn new skills from your friends or neighbors or even by yourself. Argue!
8. Stress Management for Brain Health
Stress can not only make you disorganized and forgetful, it can impact your memory functions over the long term. It is, in fact, associated with multiple chronic diseases of the brain (and heart).
Aside from mindfulness, other ways to manage stress include:
- walking in nature: activities that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be particularly stress-relieving as they offer many of the benefits of meditation
- aromatherapy: studies do show that aromatherapy can decrease anxiety. For more see here
- Sing: no joke, science tell us that singing relieves anxiety, elevates endorphins and reduces stress
- Laugh, dammit!
- Get a dog: why? Because science to you to, that’s why
- Yoga: see here