We all know that our bodies need basic things on a daily basis in order to function. Without the critical necessities of oxygen, food, water, and rest, our bodies’ basic functions will quickly deteriorate or completely stop. Most of us are also aware that our bodies need more of some things and less of others in order to optimize functionality and health – more physical activity, more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc., and less sedentary habits, less sugars, processed foods, unhealthy fats, and so forth.
What about our brains? Yes, they are affected by the things mentioned above, but for optimum function our brains need special attention that surpasses the basic bodily necessities. Doctors David Rock and Dan Siegel recently developed a project they call the Healthy Mind Platter, which focuses on 7 essential ‘mental nutrients’ that our brains need to function at their best. According to these prominent neuroscientists, just like your body needs certain “fuel” from the five food groups everyday, as recommended by the USDA, your brain also needs to engage in seven important daily activities.
“The seven essential daily mental activities are:
- Focus Time. When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, taking on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
- Play Time. When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, which helps make new connections in the brain.
- Connecting Time. When we connect with other people, ideally in person, or take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, richly activating the brain’s relational circuitry.
- Physical Time. When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, which strengthens the brain in many ways.
- Time In. When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, helping to better integrate the brain.
- Down Time. When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, which helps our brain recharge.
- Sleep Time. When we give the brain the rest it needs to consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.”
At least two of these essential mental activities – physical time and sleep time – overlap with what we already know our bodies need. But the other brain activities are often easily overlooked or not considered to be a priority in the midst of our demanding schedules. Dr. Rock warns, “We’re entering an era of an epidemic of overwhelm. A time when too many people’s mental well-being is being stretched through multi-tasking, fragmented attention and information overload.”
So how do these mental activities help us? Dr. Rock goes on to explain,
“By engaging every day in each of these servings, you enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities, which strengthens your brain’s internal connections and your connections with other people… Just like you wouldn’t eat only pizza every day for days on end, we shouldn’t just live on focus time and little sleep. Mental wellness is all about giving your brain lots of opportunities to develop in different ways.”
I encourage you to do a self-assessment regarding the presence – or absence – of these seven essential mental activities in your day-to-day life. Do you engage in plenty of ‘focus time’ every day at work, but neglect to give yourself some ‘time in?’ Or are you great at ‘play time’ and ‘connecting time,’ but tend to skimp on ‘sleep time?’ Think about your habits, be honest, and then consider what changes you might need to make in your life to allow yourself the essential ‘mental nutrients’ that you’re lacking.
To achieve greater success in all areas of your life, fuel your brain so that it can perform at its best. Who doesn’t want optimum mental performance? Engage in all seven of these essential mental activities every day, and enjoy the results!
- Focus Time
- Play Time
- Connecting Time
- Physical Time
- Time In
- Down Time
- Sleep Time
To read the full article by Dr. David Rock, which appeared in Psychology Today in June 2012, please click here.
Which of these daily mental activities are you already intentional about? Which do you need to start including in your day?