The 10 habits you need for your best brain health ever
It’s responsible for every single thing in your life, so give it the respect it deserves. Here’s how to make sure your brain health is at its most tip top, with a little help from the experts.
1 Hone your decision-making skills
Next time you’re obsessing over a decision, take a second, stop, and remember what your instinct told you in the first place. Chances are that no matter how long a decision takes, it more than likely will be the same as your gut instinct.
Becoming a better decision-maker builds your confidence and sense of self, so it’s well worth investing in some good habits to make good choices. Here are our top tips:
- Get creative and look for solutions that aren’t that obvious. Not all problems are black and white, and thinking that they are can mean you get stuck.
- Give yourself a set amount of time. Small decisions get 10 minutes, big decisions get 20. You have an innate ability to problem solve, and setting a time limit forces you to believe in that. (You can do it).
- If you allow time to run out on a situation which means a decision is made for you by default, you’re inherently undermining your own abilities and self-confidence.
2 Rest up
You need sleep. Nope, you’re not talking to yourself in the mirror again – you really do. Your brain especially. Sleeping deeply is your brain’s chance to clean itself by activating the glymphatic system. Just like when you come home after the cleaner’s been; you’re not aware of it happening, but it feels so good to be all spick and span. And, it protects from degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (sleep, not a clean house).
- Wake up at the same time, at least five days a week. Yes, even if you’ve had late nights or toddlers. This helps to keep your body and brain’s circadian rhythms in sync.
- Gift yourself a lovely night time routine. This should be a relaxed, tech-free hour, when you can wind down, clear your thoughts (maybe write them down), and signal your brain that it’s time to switch off for a while.
- Build a luxurious cave. This is the optimum environment for sleep – think cool, dark, quiet, and free from outside distractions (like the TV).
3 Learn to control your stress response
How you respond to stress, rather than the stress itself, has the power to make or break a situation. Your body’s stress responses are actually designed to help you in life, not hinder you, so a change in your mindset towards stress can help you to control your mental, emotional and physiological responses to it. Try these quick fixes to train your brain to respond differently:
- If you notice your hands getting clammy, or heartbeat starting to race, take it as a sign that this matters to you, and you are rising to the challenge.
- Remember that your response is a choice. Do you need to fight, freeze, face the challenge head-on or be extra courageous and ask for help?
- Show your appreciation for the people around you that support and contribute positively to your life. Doing this regularly fosters your need to connect, help others, and seek out people who might help you.
- If you’re especially stressed, try laughter. Laughter builds resilience, and this is a fact backed by gelotology (the science of laughter, we’ll have you know).
4 Get present
Mindfulness is a skill – and a hard one to master. To make it a habit, try the ODP method –
Observe. Describe. Participate.
Notice what’s going on, without any opinion or judgement, before reacting. Then describe what you are thinking and feeling to yourself to allow invaluable space to process. And finally, get stuck in, no matter the task. It’s easy to find ourselves on autopilot and just go through the motions, rather than fully engaging in it – when the act of losing yourself in a task or situation is about as mindful as it gets.
5 Nourish your neurons
What you eat is what you think. Or… something to that effect. We often view nutrition in terms of how it’s nourishing our bodies, but very rarely in terms of how it’s nourishing our brains. Here are the five foods to build into your dietary habits for optimal brain health, from Heights Dietician, Sophie Medlin.
Mackerel is a great source of omega 3 fat, specifically the brain essential DHA fatty acid, and an important source of B12, selenium and phospholipids. DHA makes up over 90% of the omega 3 fat content of the brain, and is essential to cell signalling and other vital tasks. Both DHA and phospholipids make up the cell membrane of brain cells.
Nuts are an important source of vitamin E, magnesium, zinc and selenium. Vitamin E may help to protect from age-related cognitive decline by maintaining the health of our brains. Magnesium, zinc and selenium are three essential trace elements. Deficiency of these nutrients is linked to confusion, depression, brain fog and insomnia.
Eggs are a great source of vitamin B12, vitamin D and phospholipids. Low vitamin B12 levels lead to fatigue, weakness and mood disorders such as depression. This can also be a symptom of low vitamin D levels, which are difficult to maintain in the winter months.
Berries, especially blueberries, are an important source of the phytochemical, anthocyanin. These are like antioxidants but they have lots of other health benefits including the ability to improve memory and focus, and protect our brains from age-related decline.
Broccoli is a great source of folic acid (folate) as well as choline. In studies, folate has been linked to a reduction in depressive symptoms, and is also essential for the production of neurotransmitters (chemical signals in the brain) and DNA.
6 Let go of your perfectionist tendencies
We’ve all got ‘em. Whether it’s obsessive tidying or triple and quadruple-checking emails before you press send, perfectionism is a thing. And it’s really damaging your ego. Let it go with these habit-forming behaviours:
- Try to change your mindset to reflect realistic expectations, that you are more than good enough to be a part of.
- Think about the standard you are holding yourself to, and if you’d do that to anyone else.
- Make decisions for yourself, to prove that you can trust you. There’s really no need to always get everyone else’s opinion, you know what you want to do – go for it.
- Stop fixating on where you need to be by taking a minute to appreciate and acknowledge where you are now, and how far you’ve come.
7 Communicate better
Unless your dad is the Dalai Lama, you might not have been taught how to communicate. Our bad comms habits are picked up from all kinds of places. Make a promise to yourself to get better, with these ways to retrain your brain.
- Clearly state what you want in the future, instead of focusing on things that went wrong previously (and that could take you further away from getting there).
- Deliver any criticism in between positive feedback. This softens the blow, and reassures the person that you still like them.
- Resist getting all Judge Judy on your significant other, which may cause them to feel shame and withdraw from you – instead, focus on how you can work together to solve the problem and move forward.
8 Learn to learn
Learning well is underrated. As a society, we’re always consuming, but how much are we remembering? Your brain needs practice to retain information – otherwise instead of a sponge, you’ve essentially got a colander. Try this new learning habit to become the pub quiz champion of the decade.
- Repeat what you’re trying to learn out loud, even if you don’t think you know enough to do it right. Each time you delve into your memory vault to retrieve information (even if you make mistakes), you update it with better understanding, so you learn more thoroughly. Reading or listening to the information encodes the information, and trying to remember it makes the information easier to retrieve.
9 Get a move on
This is something that, after writing over a year’s worth of neuroscience newsletters, Heights’ co-founder Dan has adopted and he’s never looked back. He walks everywhere – and, of course, there’s the science to back it up.
According to professor Shane O’Mara, author of In Praise of Walking: The New Science of How We Walk, and Why it’s Good for Us , walking is essential to the health of our brains.
While walking, we build cognitive maps that deepen our understanding of the world around us, and lots of regular, reliable, up-tempo walking throughout the day stimulates the production of molecules promoting brain health, and even brain resilience to the effects of chronic stress.
Plus, walking everywhere gives you chance to learn by listening. Audiobooks, podcasts or talks all nourishes those neurons.
10 Build your tribe
A tribe could be your brain’s secret weapon. A tribe consists of a group of people at similar stages in their journey, meeting every month for a few hours. You can go the whole hog and get psychologist group training, but the process is simple enough; you discuss personal, business and family experiences, both good and bad, from the last 30 days and share what’s coming the next 30. Then, two problems per session are chosen to explore using a coaching model, and members can only share from experience (never advice). It’s a financial and time commitment in self development – but it’s pretty transformational.