How to make your brain work better

7 activities your brain has to enjoy every day

Neuroscientists believe that the net effect of spending eight hours a day in the office performing repetitive tasks, a further two hours commuting, and the rest of the day scrolling through social media or watching TV, is an impairment of our normal brain functions. In short, we are being transformed into easily manipulated, apathetic zombies.

 7 types of brain activities

A daily routine, similar to the one above, has been scientifically proven to kill creativity. This occurs as a result of a rapid drop in our level of consciousness in such conditions. Read: Levels of consciousness vs happiness. Lacking the opportunity to really focus on a new task and the possibility of stretching itself to solve problems, the brain slips into so-called ‘down time’ or ‘sleep walker’ mode. The brain’s capacity to be proactive disappears quickly in such conditions, and it simply becomes lazy.

This is comparable to the process which occurs when we stop doing physical exercise, and the body consequently swiftly enters a more sedentary mode. Similarly, the brain loses focus and slumps into a semi-awake state.

An alternative scenario sees the brain engaging in 12 hours of extreme activity, permanently focusing on a variety of new tasks, learning on the go, and engaging in intensive decision making. It is constantly working at its peak. While this situation appears preferable, our brain is not designed for such extremes either. After a while it will simply stop functioning properly, due to information overload – another common feature of modern life. Read How to cope with information overload.

What happens next? The overly-active brain loses its ability to process new information, and again automatically switches to down-time mode. The recharging period could be long. Chronic information overload also causes fatigue, lack of creativity and depression.

According to David Rock, director of the Neuroleadership Institute and the author of bestseller Your Brain at Work, the human brain needs to experience 7 types of activities in order to function properly and we must have all of these every day.

If you want a plant to grow, it needs the right amount of water and nutrients,” says Rock. “It’s obvious when you leave one of those out. With the brain, it’s a less obvious. The right dietary elements are only one part of this.… The basic balanced diet that you probably already know is a foundation, but there are other types of inputs that your brain needs that people tend to ignore. And these are essentially exercising different types of circuits in the brain, allowing other circuits to rest and recover.

The ideal ratio of each of the 7 types varies from person to person, but it is important to have them all and separate them from one another. For example, don’t try to catch-up with friends or work during your down-time or time-in. In order to be more productive, creative and to feel happy and satisfied, we have to differentiate and clearly understand what kind of activity we are engaging in at a particular moment, allowing our brain to benefit from it. Likewise, don’t check your social media during your focus time.

  1. Focus time

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This is our productive time when we get things done. Our brain is highly active and exercised by problem-solving and intellectual challenges.

It’s helpful for creating deep circuits,” says Rock “and it’s a healthful and helpful process.

Without focus-time the brain becomes idle, resulting in mental sluggishness. It is very important to force it to focus, even if there’s no immediate need for it to do so. Let’s say you are on a two week holiday, and plan to spend your time doing nothing. That sounds great, but not for your brain. Give it the chance to focus for at least a few hours a day just to “keep it fit”. Learning a new language, reading a challenging book or doing any problem-solving tasks is very beneficial.

  1. Connecting time

 img_6977We are all social animals to some extent. We need to be connected and belong to a group, and our brain has the same need.

Being isolated socially is twice as dangerous to yourself as smoking. If you’re just working and not maintaining a social life, you’re probably impacting your health and well-being, not just your mental performance…

says Rock.

 I moved to different countries at various times in my life, starting again from scratch. Each time I experienced a terrible lack of connection to people at the beginning. I didn’t have friends in these new locations, and sometimes could not even call the places I lived in ‘home’. What did I do? I visited local gyms or dance classes. Even without deeper interpersonal interactions, our brain can be satisfied through merely talking to other people… So give it a chance to be connected: Go out, help someone, start doing something with other people, and it will bring plenty of positive things into your life.

  1. Down time 

 Chinese rice teerraces 2Down time is unrelated to problem-solving or to achieving your goals. It could be achieved by reading an interesting novel (don’t confuse this with reading professional literature – this is something to be done in your focus time), cleaning your home, cooking, or just sitting on a park bench, enjoying nature. Down time allows the brain to rest and recover.

You’re allowing space for your unconscious connections to come to the surface, to solve complex problems,

believe Rock.

Down time is vital for healthy brain functioning. However, it should be limited. It is always very tempting to dwell in such a mode all the time. As I mentioned earlier, when adopted for prolonged periods, down-time makes our brain lazy and impairs its functioning. Instead, take a 15-30 minute break every 2-4 hours of your active time. It will be refresh you and help you to unwind, but do not regress into this mode for hours or days.

  1. Time in

18589696 Meditation by sunset

Time in allows your brain to, in a sense, reorganize itself through reflection,

says Rock.

It’s different from down time, which is very inactive. With time in, you’re thinking about your thinking, you’re mindful and connecting your brain in deeper ways. It’s the kind of practice that allows you to reflect on your thoughts.

Yoga, meditation, psychoanalysis sessions, various spiritual practices such as tantric breathing, and many other techniques could help you to reach this mode. It is a state of being which enables you to capture your true feelings, analyse your experiences, and stimulate new ideas. Time in is one of the healthiest things you can do. Balancing yourself as a person will also improve you from a professional point of view as well. People lacking time for internal deep reflecting finally reach a state in which they are disconnected from what they want, what they need, and what really makes them happy.

Speaking about real time-in Rock noticed:

The number (of such hours) continues to decrease as I ask people. It’s not 20 or 10 or even 5 hours. For a lot of people, it’s a couple of hours a week, if that.

The culprit, he thinks, is our extremely fast lifestyle, overloaded as it is with tasks and information. The solution:

Find the ideal window in your week when you can carve out focus time — to do what I call level three thinking, deeper problem solving and writing and creative work.

It is a time slot which differs from person to person, but Rock says that the best time is generally early in the day, and early in the week — Monday, Tuesday, maybe Wednesday morning.

  1. Play Time

 ballet heder

This is all about novelty, the unexpected and fun, allowing new novel connections to form,

says Rock.

This could be absolutely anything that makes you laugh or experience relaxed and positive emotions. Comedy shows, shopping with friends, drinks or dinner out, playing games and any number of other options can be included in this category. Doing something “just for fun” at least once a day, enormously increases productivity and creativity.

  1. Physical Time

 running feet mezunoYour brain benefits tremendously from physical activity, particularly aerobic activity. A recent study showed people were 23% more effective on days they exercised,

says Rock.

“When we exercise, we’re oxygenating the brain and helping to flush out toxins, but we’re also activating regions of the brain intensely that don’t otherwise get activated, and this allows other functions to rest and helps with the overall coherence of the brain. There’s increasing evidence that thinking is very closely connected to movement, and it seems you can improve the quality of thinking by improving your effectiveness at physical activities, and it’s not just an aerobic benefit.”

So make a habit of having physical time every day. If you have no chance to get to the gym, just walk home.

  1. Sleep time

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This is the time when our brain activates its special recovery mode to put all the things it has absorbed over the course of the day together.

The sleep situation in our society has become a terrifying problem,

explained Dr. Jessica Payne, head of the Sleep, Stress, and Memory Lab at Notre Dame, and advisory board member for the Neuroleadership Institute.

 If you’re not getting enough sleep before work, research shows you might as well be working drunk,

she adds.

This is not just a metaphor. According to Dr. Charles Czeisler from Harvard Medical School, a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.

The advice? Get enough rest and try to enjoy all 7 types of mental activities every single day!

Tatiana Dmitrieva

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