Want to get ahead? Here’s seven tips for how to nurture your head

woman drinking coffee

I was asked recently for my best advice on starting a business.  Normally when asked a question of this magnitude I would consider and come back with a list of researched and up to date information.  However, this time my reaction was instant. “Get your brain together” came my response.

Our brains are the control centre of our individual lives, the driver of every human reaction to the ridiculous thoughts that occupy our minds and the collective engine that drives humanity.  In fact, how we think can, and does, alter our life, our environment and our health. How we think, and the subsequent physiological response from our brain, can also severely impact our success in our world of work.

Want to get ahead? Nurture your head. Here’s some ideas to get you started.

1. Connect

In his book Social: why our brains are wired to connect Matthew Lieberman shows that roughly 20% of our time in general is focused on thinking about other people and ourselves in relation to others. In a nutshell, we have put in 10,000 hours of thinking about our social networks by the age of 10. And, as our brains have evolved to be efficient, they do not waste time doing anything that is not critical to our existence. We need connection, we crave it. As Lieberman says, “our brains are built to practice thinking about the social world and our place in it”.

In the world of work, we are increasingly aware of the value of staff engagement, emotional intelligence and effective leadership. We know that solid networks and access to mentors is a key success indicator. So get out there and connect. Properly. Face-to-face.

2. DISconnect

“But you just said to connect!” I hear you say.  Yes, while we need to connect, we don’t need to do it all online and certainly not 24 hours a day! Think quality over quantity and allow the beautiful, creative muscle that is your brain to rest and rejuvenate. We also don’t need to work every waking moment and will actually do a better job, be more productive and procrastinate less if we allow our brains to recharge. There is a reason we come up with our best ideas in the shower!

3. Sleep

Ditch the phone charger on your side table, take a book to bed instead of the latest episode of NCIS, darken your room and sleep for enough hours every night. The optimum amount of sleep is not the same for everyone but should be consistent. A haphazard sleep pattern can only disrupt your cognitive flow.

4. Move

There are countless studies that link exercise to improved brain function. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a growth factor of the neurotrophin family, supports the function and survival of many neurons and may help protect neurons from free-radical damage. Put simply, exercise increases BDNF, which helps protect the brain from damage. BDNF also supports neurogenesis, or the creation of new brain cells, making regular exercise a complete no-brainer.

5. Laugh

Laughter is essential for optimal health and brain function (don’t believe me? Just google “gelotology”). When we laugh, endorphins are released which have a protective effect on the brain. A good old belly laugh is a fabulous stress buster too.

6. Think well

Our minds are not our brains, but our mind does instruct our brain how to react and create a physiological response. Just think about why you cry when simply reminded of an emotionally traumatic experience. Switch off the negative mind monkey chatter and replace with good and positive thoughts. Being angry and negative just surrounds us with angry and negative experiences. Find the good or the lesson in every experience. Your brain will respond accordingly.

7. Eat the rainbow

Mother Nature is a pretty clever chick. She has provided us with simple colour-coding to show us what to eat for our health and a healthy body means a healthy brain. For example, the beta carotene that turns carrots orange helps our eyes to stay sharp and our immune system to stay strong. The lycopene that is responsible for tomato red helps protect us from certain cancers and the anthocyanins that put the blue in blueberries are just perfect for keeping your brain sharp. Enjoy a rainbow of vegetables in your diet and your brain will love you for it!

It makes sense that we look after our brains. It is a pretty sophisticated piece of machinery and we only have one. It truly is our most important asset in our business, our career and our social world. So let’s give our brains the seat on the board they so richly deserve.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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