A lot of good daily habits are ignored – considered unimportant. Because they are boring. Unsexy. The opposite of trendy. No one wants to bring them up because they don’t have the capacity to attract eyeballs to the persona you are trying – so desperately – to present as genuine online.
One habit I talk about all the time – most recently in my post on the 7 worst habits for the brain. Is the habit of reading.
Reading books – especially books. Comes with a lot of benefits. Both for the brain as a whole and for your intellectual progress.
Of course reading is important. People talk about this all the time. But the activity of reading is fragile. In our modern mad world where things move fast and tools are crippling our ability to postpone gratification. We barely have the patience to tie our shoes. Finishing a book is out of the question.
What does that have to do with brain health habits in the modern world?
Busyness has become a badge of honor and a trendy status symbol. Who has time to read? Who cares about slowing down?
These days, the focus is on activities that can bring you more money and more fame. That’s why social media sites are the number one pass-time activity.
But as you rush to get more done at work while maintaining a positive attitude online. Something happens that’s not immediately noticeable.
Your brain. The organ that is at the center of things. Managing all of your functions. Gets chronically tired. Exhausted.
We accept the importance of physical health. But we often neglect the need for mental wellness.
In this post, I’m laying down healthy brain habits to console, nourish and gently lead us to the path of sanity in our overwhelmed modern age.
Why Do We Need Healthy Brain Habits?
One more time… why do we need healthy brain habits?
The answer looks staggeringly obvious.
You need healthy habits for your brain because you need your brain to function properly whenever you need it – which is all the time, as you can guess.
The reason I’m bringing this question here is the common misconception related to the topic of healthy mind habits.
These days, giant corporations and online superstars want you to believe that you can meditate your way through the nerve-racking lifestyle most of us live. You just close your eyes, relax, and listen to a calming voice for 10 minutes. When done repeatedly. This 10-minute per day exercise should, supposedly, offset the other 10 hours of mental cruelty.
Yeah, but it doesn’t work like that.
I do agree that meditation is helpful – it’s considered one of the best brain health habits. But can meditation (alone) compensate for a stress-filled day? Surely not.
You need something more besides conscious thoughtlessness to reach mind calmness. You need more than 10 minutes a day to battle modern busyness.
The key to healthy brain activity is a portfolio of practices to keep you mentally sharp.
Below, I’m sharing the best habits for brain health backed by science:
5 Healthy Brain Habits To Practice Daily:
1. Reading Books
Can reading books improve mental health?
It surely can. There are numerous studies showing that reading can reduce stress. Lower your heart rate and relax your muscles.1
Besides, reading books sets a scene for a healthy escape from the stressful environment.
Dr. David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist studying how the brain operates under real-life conditions shares that…
“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.”Dr. David Lewis
Reading is a form of escapism. And while some might argue that social media is also helping us flee away from our worries and feel better. It’s not the same.
Books help because they don’t put you in a place of comparison. Within the pages, you don’t see pictures of how others are seemingly all better than you. You immerse in another world that is helping you, through associations, slow down, think, and make better decisions in the real world.
How to do it is the tricky part, though.
There are too many alternatives to reading. Social media sites and short videos being the main enemies.
And while how to block the distractions of the modern web is beyond this article. If you want to start with the restoration of the ancient – and incredibly useful habit of reading. You can start with this post: Before, During, and After Reading Activities.
2. Physical Activities
What’s easy to overlook these days is the need to move. As you enter adulthood. You become more and more unwilling to perform “unnecessary” physical exercises.
- Why take the stairs when there is an elevator?
- Why walk when you can drive?
- Why exercise when you can immerse yourself in the endless sea of entertainment?
The paradox of modern life is that our days are extremely busy and yet, we don’t move. Our hectic lifestyle is mostly attacking our brain while our body is placed in a seated position.
According to studies, though. This sedentary lifestyle we are experiencing damages our memory, worsens our cognitive processes, and intensifies brain aging.
Increasing evidence suggests that regular physical activities lead to all kinds of positive signals:2
- Increased working memory and better attention.
- Better mental health and overall mood.
- You even learn better if while learning you exercise – for example, walk and learn words from a new language.
The benefits of physical exercise are plenty. But the main thing in favor of stimulating your muscles is that we’re designed to move. The human body was designed to be active.
Sadly, we later designed everything around us to prevent us from moving. That’s why it’s hard to do it repeatedly. You need all kinds of skills:
- Time management – to create time for exercising.
- Resilience – to train even when you don’t feel like training.
- Zest – inner motivation to help you stay consistent.
Sounds complicated. But it’s actually not. You just have to make moving part of your day. Taking the stairs every time you can and walking instead of driving when possible is a good start.
3. Brain Exercises
My math teacher in 6th grade used to say: “The main thing that distinguishes smart people from regular people is that they think fast.”
At the time I didn’t get it. But later I did. And it totally made sense.
After all, there is no use in coming up with a clever answer to an interview question after the interview.
A lot of situations require fast thinking.
Unfortunately, with age and with technology trying to remove our ability to think. We experience cognitive decline. That is, our mental abilities decrease with age. Our processing speed, reaction time, decision-making, and short-term memory deteriorates if we don’t do something about it.
A recent example is me trying to make a simple calculation – think of multiplying 15 by 17. My brain froze. I forgot how to math.
To stay sharp these days. To maintain healthy cognitive (thinking) abilities. We need – besides physical exercises – brain exercises.
Imagine this like a gym session but for the brain.
Activities in this list include all sorts of things. From solving puzzles, playing chess, doing mental math, to engaging in brain games.
So yes, when solving puzzles and playing chess becomes tiresome. You can use your phone for something good.
4. Ask Questions And Tackle Problems
People who are good at problem-solving are often abused. Other people chase them around to solve problems for them.
And while we all need a little help with certain tasks. If all we do is present our problems to others so they can solve them. It gets in the way of our learning. It prevents people from exercising their ability to think.
If you just got a new job. Most of the time, you’ll ask your colleagues questions when you face difficult-to-address situations. It totally makes sense. Some problems are unsolvable when you don’t know yet how the company operates. However, with time, and occasionally if you’re still new. It’s helpful to just tackle problems on your own. Find the answer – don’t outsource the answer.
Creativity gets stunned and learning stalls when you wait for answers. When you don’t exercise your own ability to think.
And how do you solve never-seen-before problems?
You can start by asking open-ended questions. Critical thinking questions.
For example, if something you did during work caused a problem. There is a big difference between asking something like: “What possibilities do I see here?” Instead of being stuck in self-pity.
In the first case, you are utilizing your brain. You encourage it to think.4 The entire brain gets active as it looks for different solutions. And by looking for answers, you prevent yourself from being caged in a depressive mood.
Plainly, you stay hopeful instead of hopeless. This allows you to have an optimistic outlook on the world which triggers a chain effect of positive sensations: Your mood is better, learning improves, and thinking is clearer.
5. Letting Go
Being careless. Learning how to let go. Are both unique and much-needed tools in the arsenal of the modern man.
Even if you need to. Even if you convince yourself that you have to.
There are simply too much stuff going on in the world. You can’t take – you shouldn’t take – everything to heart.
As Mark Manson writes in his best-selling book with a provocative title, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:
“In life, we have a limited amount of fucks to give. So you must choose your fucks wisely.” Mark Manson
Carefully curate the things that get stuck in your head and dismiss everything else.
This is, by far, the best habit you can maintain to lower the daily stress and escape the modern rat race.
How can you do it?
Well, though it seems simple. It’s surely not an easy task. We want validation. And to get it, we strive to be perfect at everything we do. But as soon as someone comments on our work. We fall into despair for not meeting our self-imposed impossible-to-meet standards.
If you find yourself worrying about everyday issues for no obvious reason, you can start with following these three rules:
- Progress is better than being perfect.
- Understand that everyone is winning it, all the time.
- Share your worries on a piece of paper – if you can’t do it with a fellow human being.
The idea of letting go is to prevent the daily problems to consume your mind and bring you into a state of chronic worrying – the so-called generalized anxiety disorder.
As a bonus to the above, I suggest reading Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. The book is jam-packed with insightful ways to calm down and live your life more peacefully.
Some Closing Thoughts
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t involve only a good diet and regular exercise. It should also include activities that aim to block the tsunami of information, worries, and stress that are all trying to plunge you into a state of despair.
Simply put, we also need a checklist of healthy brain habits.
Things to perform daily that will calm the most important organ in our bodies and keep our thinking sharp.
This becomes more evident with the growing disorder in the world. With the growing number of things that are fighting for our attention.
We need to be ever-vigilant.
The world is constantly shape-shifting. Making it harder and harder for us to find alone time so we can practice the above-mentioned healthy mind habits – our your own variation of mental health activities.
What I mean is that there are constant re-arrangements in your pre-made schedule – you’d have to work more today, your child gets sick, there is an emergency, etc.
When such situations occur, they can easily spoil our good intentions. That’s why, besides wanting to practice. We also need to be flexible. To re-arrange our daily habits in order to ensure that we’ll actually practice our daily habits.
You surely can’t predict what will happen next. But your ability to adapt can ensure that what you intended to do will be accomplished.
Add to your good daily rituals toolset by reading the following:
- The Curse of Habit Stacking – Are Your Current Habits Slowly Destroying You?
- Keystone Habits: Or How To Adopt 100 Good Habits With Just 1 Habit
- Healthy Brain Habits To Maintain Sanity In Our Mad World
- How To Overcome The 7 Worst Habits For Your Brain
- What Is Habituation And Its Role In The Modern World
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- Galaxy Stress Research. Mindlab International, Sussex University, 2009.
- Di Liegro, C. M., Schiera, G., Proia, P., & Liegro, I. D. (2019). Physical Activity and Brain Health. Genes, 10(9). On the web: https://doi.org/10.3390/genes10090720
- Hardy, J. L., Nelson, R. A., Thomason, M. E., Sternberg, D. A., Katovich, K., Farzin, F., & Scanlon, M. (2015). Enhancing Cognitive Abilities with Comprehensive Training: A Large, Online, Randomized, Active-Controlled Trial. PLOS ONE, 10(9), e0134467. On the web: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134467
- As you think and reflect, serotonin is released calming you down and regulating your mood. Kraus C, Castrén E, Kasper S, Lanzenberger R. Serotonin and neuroplasticity – Links between molecular, functional and structural pathophysiology in depression. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017 Jun;77:317-326. On the web: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.03.007