I was giving a Lunch & Learn last week on “Workplace Wellness and Your Brain” and a question came up that I know you can relate to!
In the session I mix a little neuroscience with a sprinkling of case studies and a pinch of lifestyle changes to give simple and actionable insight into how to physically optimise your brain for a busy and ever-changing, ever-challenging environment.
The question was: when I’m busy, this type of wellness is the first thing to go! How do I make sure this isn’t the case, when I know it’s not doing me any favours?
I think we all know this frustration! We know we should be eating better, or sleeping more, or exercising regularly, or drinking less alcohol… but when faced with the decision of increased wellness or BAU, our brain tends to take the easier option!
So why do we do this to ourselves?
Our brain is already incredibly busy – in every millisecond our brain’s 86 billion neurons (or brain cells) are interpreting and responding to the wealth of information they receive from our body and environment, and interpreting it by bringing together emotions, actions, and memories to form connections.
When we’re under stress, this impacts our ability to think logically, stay focused, overcome challenges, make decisions… all our higher functions are impacted, making it difficult for our brain to help us form new habits, no matter how beneficial we know them to be.
Picking up new habits can be difficult, but some are simpler than others – drinking more water requires less effort than going from couch to 5k, for instance. For your brain, this also applies.
There are 3 types of neuroplasticity when developing habits or learning something new:
- Becoming an expert at something you are good at – “Myelination” allows the transmission between neurons to become faster and more efficient. Easiest way to develop a skill or habit
- Improving something you are already familiar with – “Synaptic connections” allow existing neurons to build more connections and strengthen existing pathways
- Learn a new habit or skill – “Neurogenesis” is the growing of new, mature neurons from embryonic nerve cells. Hard work and time consuming, especially for adults, but possible!
So let’s go for the low-hanging fruit here: What is one thing you can do today that makes you feel good? That you are already familiar with but isn’t yet a regular habit? That lowers your stress, that gives you focus, that makes you happy, that releases endorphins or dopamine, that sparks your creativity?
No one is perfect, and no one has great days EVERY day. But what is the one key thing that you can do today to ensure that today (and perhaps tomorrow!) is one of those great days? Is it sleep? Is it exercise? Is it no alcohol before bed? Is it a healthy lunch?
Aim for more good days than average ones, and more average days than poor, and slowly build up into a habit of doing at least one thing that makes you feel good, every day. Then maybe add another!
We don’t need more stress in our lives, so be kind to yourself and your progress.
Action = Progress, slow and steady.