Mental Health Check: Get the Most Out of Your Brain
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Are You Taking Care of Your Brain?
Have you been traveling on business and gone to the gym in your hotel to find all the equipment already in use – at 6 AM?
Then you remember the stories about how many very successful people awaken before dawn and get in some kind of exercise before starting their workday. What’s that about?
Sustaining your mental powers, in part, requires that you do the things that make the brain function at its best. Research shows that physical exercise positively correlates to brain health. Certainly, there are exceptions, people who treat themselves terribly and appear to have terrific brainpower. But do you want to count on your genes putting you into such a tiny percentage of the population? Not a wise choice.
What to Do?
Simple aerobic exercise improves episodic memory and executive-control functions by about 20 percent finds Art Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.. Exercise, aerobic and nonaerobic, helps a specific part of the brain create new neurons that store experiences and new knowledge. It also stimulates the production of chemicals that stimulate new neurons and the critical neurotransmitters that carry brain signals.
Exercise also stimulates the production of new synapses, which are connections between neurons whose functioning are critical to sharp thinking. Kramer finds that a year of exercise can give a 70-year-old the connectivity of a 30-year-old, improving memory, planning, and handling ambiguity
What Else Can you Do?
Get the right amount of sleep – probably more than you’re getting. Sleep has been heavily researched and new studies suggest that a crucial function of sleep is to purge the brain of biochemical waste products. Inadequate sleep could contribute to the buildup of harmful chemicals, which could eventually lead to brain problems like Alzheimer's disease. How much sleep? The National Sleep Foundation claims that adults need from seven to nine hours sleep every night. Google “sleep needs” to see dozens of articles and recommendations if you need convincing.
What Else Can Hurt Your Brain?
Your internet habits. The marvelous availability of information and connectivity has caused many people to become “internet addicts.” Addicted to the quick find, the constant ease and high speed of switching from task to task provides the brain with loads of stimulation. The hit of dopamine generated when we accomplish some small task and switch over to another becomes a feeling we enjoy and look forward to.
The problem is that we really are not getting much done, and much that is done is just surface level thinking and reacting. But we convince ourselves through all that activity that we are being efficient and effective
Maria Konnikova, a psychology Ph.D. who has extensively studied the brain, has a simple message for you: Pause, step back, and recognize the actual costs of your habits. The persistent high level of changing focus “makes us less able to engage with what we're reading and what we're doing, and it also makes us exhausted and worse at the tasks that we do have to accomplish."
The Multitasking Myth
Not long ago, the ability to multitask was near the top of desirable characteristics for employees – almost every higher-level job in every industry demanded this “skill.” However, research is conclusive that forcing yourself to change your attention focus rapidly and persistently is not only bad for the brain, it is bad for getting the results needed.
The act of multitasking makes it very difficult for the brain to bring depth of concentration on a subject. Knowing that you have little time to really think leads to surface level analysis. Moving on to the next topic causes you to feel distracted – the constant starting and stopping leads to feeling exhausted. It can become a vicious cycle in that the surface level handling of an issue leads to incomplete solutions, which lead to reintroducing the same problem again and again. We recognize that we are in the incompletion circle but due to all the pressures to move on, we can’t break the cycle.
Escaping the Internet and Multitasking Traps.
Breaking away from the internet addiction and the trap of multitasking starts by recognizing you are in its grip. Understanding the dangers involved in not changing should enable you to force yourself to see and then break the behavior patterns that previously trapped you.
Scheduling your time so that you can focus on email only a few times per day, for only so many minutes, can release your mind to become effective instead of just busy. Record what you do in time blocks – it will stun you to learn exactly where you are investing your time. You may have to stop agreeing to do so many tasks to fully escape the multitasking dragon. It won’t be easy, but it will make a huge difference in your effectiveness, efficiency, and even your brain’s health.