That’s a photo of Griffin with his beloved Coach Zak after his team won their first game of the entire fall/spring season 5-4! Griffin scored the game-winning goal and just all-around played awesome.
Each week various members of his team would bemoan their losses and look at future games with resignation and doubt. But not Griffin – every week he was excited to play and optimistic about his team’s chances.
I’m most proud of this moment because it reflected SO much of Griffin’s hard work – physically, yes, but especially mentally and emotionally.
We all need a strong foundation of brain health if we’re going to meet any undesirable situation with the mental and emotional strength that’s needed to work through it with equanimity.
Last week one of my clients felt frustrated and overwhelmed by the amount of energy it takes to respond powerfully to her negative thoughts, saying “Maybe it is meant to be hard to change over 30 years of mental conditioning…”
I answered her with an emphatic yes! Overcoming 30+ years of negative thoughts/conditioning is A LOT of work, BUT it doesn’t have to feel like a struggle.
We all know that living each day consumed by depression, hopelessness, powerlessness, anger, blame, guilt and every other negative feeling is hardly a walk in the park!
So the reality is that you will expend energy no matter what. But you get to decide how you focus it.
How can you focus your energy in positive ways, though? For years I have taught myself and my clients to rely on a cognitive/psychological approach to dealing with negative thoughts and feelings—and that has been very effective.
In the process, though, I’ve overlooked some facts of basic biology which show us how we can help our brains work even better. And once our brains are working better, our psyches no longer have to do SO MUCH of the heavy lifting.
In his book Unleash the Power of the Female Brain, Dr. Amen (a psychiatrist and world-renowned researcher) talks about how to develop healthy “brain habits” in order to help your brain “serve you rather than steal from you.”
He makes it clear that you CAN consistently feel good, have the energy to work with your thoughts AND dramatically boost the quality of your life.
1. Identify your health goals and remind yourself of them every day.
This applies to physical health as well as brain health. Set goals—whether it’s to run a seven-minute mile or just walk around the block every day for a week—remind yourself of them consistently, and revise them as needed.
Of course, you need to make brain-healthy habits a priority every day, too. What are brain-healthy habits? To make things easier for you, I’ve included 4 easy actions below that will serve as remedies to the most common brain-unhealthy habits. So read on!
2. Make healthy decisions in advance.
Have you noticed that you feel practically compelled to have “just one more” glass of wine or roll after you’ve had the first? No, it’s NOT that you have no willpower!
It’s the fact that alcohol and wheat lower the functioning of the Pre-Frontal Cortex and dramatically decrease your ability to make good decisions. Creating a simple guideline to have only one glass of wine, or one roll, will lead to fewer regrets after a meal and set you up for success for hours after.
3. Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking.
I hear from so many busy women that they don’t have time for breakfast, or they think grabbing a banana before they head out the door in the morning is enough, and this is a huge mistake.
You’re literally starving your brain. You need to jump-start your brain by eating some high-quality protein (this can be simple, like a hardboiled egg). And for women who want to lose weight: this will also jump-start your metabolism and create the effect of burning more calories throughout the day!
You want to include high-quality protein at every meal (preferably every 2-4 hours) to balance your blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar levels are associated with lower overall blood flow to the brain and more bad decisions.
4. Reduce sugar intake; eliminate ALL artificial sweeteners.
I could devote a full article to this one (you can read Dr. Amen’s take on it here), but the upshot is that sugar is bad for your brain—and artificial sweeteners are bad, bad, bad for brain health.
5. Get at least seven hours of sleep at night.
Less than 7 hours of sleep is associated with lower blood flow to the brain and more bad decisions. This ONE thing could make the biggest difference in your brain health and overall quality of life, so please make this an absolute priority!
I’ve already shared so much in the way of how to choose better-feeling thoughts (what I call “mind maintenance”), but what I learned from Dr. Amen is that your brain can be a friend or foe depending on developing healthy brain habits (what I will now call “brain maintenance”).
Please follow these suggestions: if you do, I know your brain will be your BEST friend and you will feel MUCH better VERY soon.
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