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Building Blocks for a Healthy Brain

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Shonte’ Taylor. I was recruiting her to the YMCA of Austin Board. Our friendship developed and before I knew it she was inviting me to register for her neuroscience leadership course, OptiMind Neuroscience & Coaching Institute. This course has been instrumental in helping me understand the neuroscience behind my work in Emotional Intelligence. The very first lesson was what Shonte’ described as the 7 Mental Activities of a Healthy Brain. So here are my takeaways from her list:

1. SLEEP – maybe the most important and easiest to implement, though it takes time to get into healthy habits to assure adequate sleep time. Most people need 8-9 hours of sleep, yet over the course of my lifetime, people “brag” about how little sleep they need. I was never one to pull all-nighters in college. I knew my brain would not retain my studies after about 11pm. It was much better for me to get up early and begin afresh. Quick notes on sleep:

a. Our brain files things into our long-term memory during sleep.

b. We gain ideas and insights.

c. Lack of sleep is the major cause of depression and motor vehicle accidents.

d. Cat naps increase our ability to focus and enable our creative juices to flow.

e. Our body does a lot of repair work during sleep.

2. PLAY – one of the more over-looked elements of a healthy brain in the workplace is play. We spend a lot of time not playing. This may have brought about the idea of playrooms at tech companies. The challenge is incorporating play in hybrid situations. Quick notes on play:

a. It helps us master challenging situations

b. Essential to child and adult development.

c. Unstructured play is best.

d. Activates the reward system and release of dopamine.

e. Helps create closer connections to others.

3. DOWN TIME - this one is hard to reconcile – Just Do Nothing. I know I have a hard time with this. Even my favorite vacations are about doing something physical. Lying at the beach and enjoying the passage of time is not something I typically will chose. I’d rather go to the mountains and take on challenging hikes. Quick notes on Down Time:

a. Intentionally reduce brain activity to make unconscious connections and insights.

b. Helps produce better decisions.

c. Relaxation

4. INNER TIME – this is what most people (including me) resist – self-reflection, yet it’s what Daniel Goleman says is the most important step in Emotional Intelligence – know thyself. Quick notes on Inner Time:

a. So many business articles write about the % of people that are burnt out or stressed.

b. Up to 60% of doctor visits are from stress-related concerns.

c. Chronic stress leads to all kinds of brain-related issues

d. Meditation, Mindfulness, listen to music and walking outdoors are all Inner Time solutions.

e. Leads to higher levels of compassion and empathy.

5. SOCIAL TIME – connecting with others is one of my top priorities. Most of my professional work with the YMCA was grounded in relationship building. It opened so many doors for me in building communities and eventually YMCA’s all over the country (Houston, Seattle and Austin). Here are some Quick Notes:

a. Isolation is registered as pain in our brains.

b. Loneliness increases stress and creates negative sleep patterns.

c. Connections decreases stress.

d. Oxytocin (“the love neurotransmitter) is released

6. PHYSICAL TIME – this has always been so important to me. For as long as I can remember I’ve been active in sports or fitness of some sort. It’s a great release of stress and an important way I keep myself healthy. Quick Notes:

a. Improves blood flow to the brain.

b. Decreases stress and anxiety

c. It increases the brain’s ability to make new connections (neuroplasticity)

d. Protects the brain

7. FOCUS TIME - there is some very enlightening information here. Test these Quick notes for yourself:

a. Multitasking reduces our IQ

b. Focus time should be no more than 30-90 minutes

c. Enhances self-control

What do you do with this information? A few years ago, I spent a week with a family member who was recovering from a heart attack. As I was leaving, I offered a bit of advice (advice can be a very bad idea, but I felt compelled to suggest something that would help). I suggested that they take up meditation, 5 minutes per day. There are meditations that relate to almost every building block here. Meditation can help with sleep, stress, self-regulation, focus, decision-making and relaxation. Every day it seems that a new study reveals additional benefits from meditation. Even our watches will remind us to just take a minute to breathe. Small changes can lead to very big outcomes. I think meditation is one of those small changes we can all make. What are your takeaways?

CHALLENGE: My challenge to you is to join me in committing to meditate 5 minutes every day over the next two weeks. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Approximately 480 are sleeping minutes and another 480 are working minutes. I’ll be generous and add another 60 minutes for commuting, that leaves 420 minutes to fit in 5 minutes of mediation. Like everything else, it’s best if we add it to our daily schedule, even better if it’s the same time every day. If meditation isn’t your thing, maybe prayer is, which is another form of meditation. Or try going for a 5-minute walk. There are all kinds of ways to go about this. Find what works for you. You may be surprised by the results.

To find out more about OptiMind Neuroscience Coaching, visit my friend Shonte’s site: .


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