Weekend wisdom 8

A weekly review of things that came through my inbox that I found interesting and want to remember.

This week, I stumbled on Dr Sarah McKay, a neuroscientist who studies women’s brains. She’s also an author and presents the ABC’s Catalyst program. On her blog Your Brain Health, Sarah outlines the seven habits of healthy brains, which she says are:

  1. Sleep—it needs to be a priority, not a luxury. It is essential for consolidating memories and draining waste products from our brain. We also under-consume natural light during the day and over-consume artificial light at night, disrupting our natural rhythms, hormones and immune systems.
  2. Move—physical exercise is the best exercise for your brain. It triggers the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes neurone growth and survival, reduced inflammation and supports the formation of long-term memories.
  3. Nourish—she says research favours a Mediterranean-style diet of mostly plants, fish, some meat, olive oil and nuts.
  4. Calm—chronic stress can change the wiring of our brains. Too much cortisol prevents the birth of new neurones and causes the hippocampus to shrink, reducing your powers of learning and memory. Meditate, walk or nap. Do something you’re good at that requires some degree of challenge.
  5. Connect—we are social animals and have a fundamental need for human warmth and connection. Loneliness and social isolation is as bad for us as smoking.
  6. Challenge—regularly challenge your mind and stay mentally active. Choose mentally challenging activities that you can practise regularly, that are reasonably complex and take you out of your cognitive comfort zone.
  7. Believe—seek out your purpose in life. People who score high in purpose live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives. Set fantastic, passionate goals and work like crazy to achieve them. Find your place of flow.

What struck me when I was reading this was that six of these seven things are the exact same things I am (or will be) working on in my wellbeing program. So this is good to know.

Another post I found useful was from the Insight timer blog, an app I used to use regularly but haven’t used for several months now. It talks about morning routines, which are supposed to be good for us in setting up our day, but which I have fallen out of lately. This post specifically talks about how to alleviate anxious feelings by establishing a healthy morning routine. I generally don’t have a problem with anxious thoughts in the morning but the routine is similar to what I used to do before it all fell apart.

This is their suggestion for such a routine:

  1. Examine your thoughts
  2. Get up and hydrate
  3. Practise gratitude
  4. Breathe
  5. Meditate (incidentally, Sarah McKay’s blog has a great article on what to do if meditation stresses you out, which I’m kind of glad to hear her say because when I was doing it I always felt like it wasn’t helping me and I guess that’s one reason why it was so easy for me to not resume when I broke my 500+ day streak last year, when I think I was doing it under a sense of obligation to maintain the streak than any actual benefit. Maybe that’s one to think about for another day.)
  6. Exercise

I found this great article from songwriter Christine Kane on another blog I read occasionally. It’s about how to overcome “attention splatter”.  Of all the articles and tips I’ve picked up over the years I’m finding this to be one of the simplest and clearest outlines of what to do when you “mindlessly and half-heartedly splatter your attention on non-activities, but you never fully engage”. This sounds like me.

Christine’s seven steps are:

  1. Have no more than three priorities for the day. Ask yourself, “If I only accomplish one thing today, which one thing would make me most happy?”
  2. Know the task before you sit down at the computer. Assign tasks. (i.e. “Clean out email folders”) Assign times. (“From 1pm to 2pm”) Stop as soon as the end time arrives.
  3. Put an end to activities that leak (like checking mails). Make a list of “leaky” activities, and stop the leaks by scheduling these activities—and stop when the time is up.
  4. Use your small slices of time. Learn to fit constructive things in to small slices of time. (Along the same lines, this week’s Asian Efficiency podcast has a heap of ideas for activities you can fit into small slices of time.)
  5. Use your intention. Before you begin any activity, set an intention for that activity. Focus on your desired outcome and how you want to feel during the activity.
  6. Get rid of anything that doesn’t feed you—emails, unread books, subscriptions . . .  if you subscribe to it, ask yourself why. Start letting go of stuff. Be ruthless about keeping the incoming stuff to a minimum.
  7. Be present in your down-time. When you take a nap, take a nap. When you take a Saturday off, really take it off. Don’t spend the day obsessing about the things you should be doing.

I think the last one is a really great thing to keep in mind. You aren’t going to recover and rejuvenate yourself if you keep working and don’t take a proper break.

And finally, two thoughts from James Clear. Or one thought and a question:

An imperfect start can always be improved, but obsessing over a perfect plan will never take you anywhere on its own.

I need to put this up in very large print above my desk.

How long will you put off what you are capable of doing just to continue what you are comfortable doing?

Indeed.

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