I heard Dan Siegel, co- author of The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, speak to a group of parents earlier this week about seven activities they could do with or teach their children to improve brain functioning. He and David Rock created a Healthy Mind Platter, similar to basic food groups for good nutrition:
Focus Time: When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain (and strengthen the part of the brain we use to develop a healthy, coherent sense of personal self).
Play Time: When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain (opening us to learning and wisdom).
Connecting Time: When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry (which supports our practices of kindness, compassion, generosity, morality).
Physical Time: When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways (creating greater elasticity and flexibility).
Sleep Time: When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day. (Without enough sleep, there’s no time for the brain to consolidate memory. Even in you learn something during the day, without enough sleep, the circuits don’t get consolidated; the learning is not there the next day.)
Time In: When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain (because we become aware of input from all areas in the brain: body and mind, feelings and thoughts, conscious and unconscious, past, present and future).
Down Time: When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge. (We strengthen the defocusing network of the brain that allows epiphanies, revelations, and insights to pop up out of the blue. This kind of attention allows us to access experiences of non-self.)
These seven mental activities are essential for adult brains to thrive, too. You may not choose to do all seven practices every day, but an integrated balance of all seven over time will help your brain work better, leading to more resilience and well-being in your life in general.