brain

The brain runs on biochemical energy. If we know how it works, we will be able to make better use of it. However, like any other muscle in our body, we need to train it. This can only be done through having the right “mental diet”, made up of a range of activities which are not always present in our daily lives. David Rock, the founder of the Neuroleadership Institute, and Daniel J. Siegel, describe what we have to do in order to achieve this. They have called their prescription “the Healthy Mind Platter”. It consists of seven activities that we need to do on a regular basis. Marta Romo has renamed this the “Rainbow Routine”, which has to be integrated in our daily lives if we want to be more creative and fully develop our talents.

Let’s have a look at what this diet contains…

  1. Sleep, which refreshes the mind and body and bolsters our memory, allows the brain to process the pieces of information that we have seen during the day. It’s not surprising, then, that when we get up in the morning, we often come up with answers to problems that seemed insoluble the night before. Sleep, purely and simply, has done its work. How much sleep do we need? Although it’s often said that we need eight hours a day, Rock and Siegel claim that it depends on the individual. This being the case, each of us needs to be aware of how much time our body and mind need in order to be in tip-top condition. As an aside, Albert Einstein usually slept for 10 hours every night, except for when he was working on something that he considered important- then he slept for 11.
  2. Play and experiment with life. In a recent post we looked at the importance of play, and neuroscience confirms this. Thanks to play, we are less rigid emotionally and we can be more creative. There is a scientific explanation behind why we are more likely to learn when we enjoy what we’re doing: the frequency of our brain waves facilitates the learning process.
  3. Do nothing. This is possibly one of the things that we find most difficult. Doing nothing doesn’t mean doing what we like. Rather, it is time spent on not focusing on anything in particular, such as when we are in a plane and our mind wanders aimlessly, or when we listen to a song without paying attention to the lyrics. These “free moments” help us to be more effective at reaching our goals. For this reason, before we set about doing a complex task, it’s a good idea to “waste” some time doing something trivial. This is a necessary preamble to finding a solution.
  4. Develop introspection, or live in the present. We achieve this through activities such as going for a walk in the country, listening to soothing music, or doing meditation or using relaxation techniques without any fixed aim in mind. All of these activities help to reduce our stress levels, blood pressure and muscle tension. To a certain extent, they are all activities which prepare us for being more effective in what we need to do.
  5. Connect with others. This is the time we devote to cultivating healthy relationships in which we enjoy someone’s company, a good conversation, or have a satisfying physical contact. In a previous post we saw how friendship increases our life expectancy. But that’s not all: as a result of connecting with others, we can improve our endocrine, cardiovascular and immune systems.
  6. Do physical exercise. We all know that we need to do some form of sport to feel healthy. However, above and beyond this, neuroscience has proved that physical exercise also increases the plasticity of our brain, which in turn favours learning and creativity. Physical exercise also stimulates neuronal activity, which protects the brain from the aging process and other types of damage. There is a broad range of exercise options open to us, from competitive sport to walking, dancing, hiking, etc.
  7. Focus on objectives. Here, we’re talking about the time we spend on work-related tasks and running errands. Advances in technology have enabled us to take advantage of any moment during the day to solve problems, answer emails, make phone calls, etc. However, if we want to focus on what we need to do more efficiently, it’s a good idea to take one task at a time and not fall into the temptation of multitasking, which ends up being time-inefficient and saps our energy.

As we have seen, neuroscience makes it clear that, if we want to be more effective and creative, we need to devote time to a range of activities that are brain-friendly, such as rest, calm reflection, or being with friends. If we leave any of these activities out of our regular diet, our dear old brain will be missing some of the ingredients that it needs to be at the top of its game.

Take-aways

  1. Look at how you have spent your time over the last few weeks. Identify which of the seven activities for a brain-healthy diet you have focused on and which you have let fall by the wayside.
  2. Think about whether, in the future, you will be able to do each and every one of the seven activities in the Rainbow Routine, to use Marta Romo’s term (physical possibility, means at your disposal, people you know, etc.).
  3. Draw up an action plan to deal with the types of activity that are currently not part of your normal routine.

Round-up

Our brain runs on energy. If we feed it by doing the seven key activities, we will be ready to fire on all cylinders.

This post is an enlarged and authorised version of Marta Romo’s “The Rainbow Routine”. It is based on the information presented by Rock, Siegel et al in “The healthy mind platter“.

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