This Neurologist's 10-Day Reset Plan Can Help You Reclaim Your Health
Welcome to the 10‑day "Brain Wash." This is a reset for your brain and body. Its purpose is to help you to reclaim your health and joy by giving you back control over your thinking, decision making, and behavior. You will transform your habits, your relationships, and the way you experience your life. It starts with just 10 days of focused effort. You can do this.
A note: This is not a quick fix. We're giving you a blueprint for long-term success and the permanent recalibration of your mental machinery.
Rather, this 10-day plan is designed to be as practical as possible without sacrificing benefits or testing your willpower to an unrealistic extreme.
Day 1: The Digital Detox
First and foremost, you need to create barriers between your brain and the incessant influence of digital distraction. The idea is not to completely cut technology out of your life. Instead you will overhaul your use of digital devices. You will get what you need from technology while limiting its ability to hijack your time.
On Day 1 of the program, do the following:
- Review and turn off nonessential notifications (push notifications, badges, email notifications, and others) on your smartphone and computer. This frees your mind for more meaningful tasks.
- Review and delete unnecessary applications from your phone.
- Make the "Do Not Disturb" feature on your phone and computer the default option.
- Start using Airplane Mode during meals and important conversations as well as while you're sleeping.
- Determine whether social media is essential for your business and personal life. If not, plan to abstain from using it or substantially limit your time on these platforms.
- Create and adhere to specific time periods during the day for responding to text messages, emails, and phone calls, if possible. Be strict with these boundaries (see our TIME tool reminder below).
- Cut out nonessential online shopping.
Day 2: Practicing Empathy Through Gratitude
Reflecting on the positive aspects of your life and the people you care about is an exercise in mindfulness and empathy, and studies show that more gratitude means more empathy. On Day 2, write down five things you are thankful for. These can be as specific as a delicious meal or conversation with a friend or as general as your good health.
Put a journal, a notepad, or just a sheet of paper as well as a pen or pencil by your bedside. You'll spend a few minutes in the morning or evening writing down five points of gratitude from this day forward. In addition, make a daily goal of thanking someone in person for something specific that individual has done.
This type of prosocial behavior helps you and the person you're thanking. As an optional step, take time each day to pause and consider why someone who holds a dissimilar perspective from yours thinks and feels that way. This will further bolster your empathy for others.
Day 3: Nature Therapy
We understand that most people don't live within walking distance of an expansive forest. That's fine. Instead, the idea is to do what is possible given your individual circumstances. We're asking you to spend at least 30 minutes today somewhere in nature.
You do not have to go to extremes. Start by locating parks and green spaces near you; nature is readily available to all of us if we just get outside. Even in an urban environment, the benefits of nature can easily be enjoyed. If you have no other options, you can simply walk outside your office or home and observe the landscape.
Try to take in the sounds, sights, and smells of the plants around you, using all your senses. Consider walking slowly and taking time to appreciate nature's diversity and complexity, whether you're at the beach, in a park, or walking around your neighborhood. Find a specific part of a park that appeals to you and spend extra time savoring the section you enjoy most.
Day 4: Figuring Out Food
Dietary change has to start in the places where you have the most control: your kitchen and pantry. Now is the time to take a good look at what you've been eating. While it's easy to make exceptions (such as saving those cookies and cans of soda for guests or keeping the cereal "just in case"), this is the moment to embrace the word no.
Below is an abbreviated list of the foods to toss or keep:
- All forms of processed, refined carbs, sugar, and starch.
- All artificial sweeteners and products made with artificial sweeteners. Evict even the sugar substitutes that are marketed as "natural."
- Sugar alcohols, including sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, erythritol, and isomalt.
- Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, ham, salami, smoked meat, canned meat, dried meat, hot dogs, corned beef, and cold cuts.
- Margarine, vegetable shortening, and most commercial brands of vegetable cooking oils.
- Nonfermented soy products (e.g., tofu and soy milk) and processed foods made with soy (look for "soy protein isolate" in the list of ingredients).
- Foods containing ingredients that sound like chemicals or are otherwise foreign to you, such as maltodextrin, sodium nitrite, and sodium benzoate.
- Packaged foods labeled "fat-free" or "low-fat." Often, foods that emphasize their low-fat content as a way of appealing to consumers contain a significant amount of added sugar.
- Healthful fats: extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, organic tallow and butter from grass-fed cows, ghee, coconuts, olives, nuts and nut butters, and seeds.
- Low-sugar fruit: avocado, bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, lemon, lime.
- Protein: plant sources of protein, including cooked legumes, and fermented, non-GMO soy products, such as tempeh and miso. Animal sources of protein include pastured whole eggs, wild fish, grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, and wild game.
- Vegetables: leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, artichoke, alfalfa sprouts, green beans, celery, bok choy, radishes, watercress, turnips, asparagus, garlic, leeks, fennel, shallots, scallions, ginger, jicama, parsley, water chestnuts, celery root, kohlrabi, and daikon.
- Probiotic-rich fermented foods: kimchi, kefir, cultured condiments, and live-culture yogurt.
- Prebiotic-rich foods: dandelion greens, garlic, onion, asparagus, leek, jicama, and sunchoke.
Day 5: Successful Shut-Eye
Who would have thought that those hours of semi-unconsciousness at night could be so valuable? The research on the health benefits of sleep is absolutely stunning. There are three ways to prepare for successful sleep that you'll focus on:
- Create a sleep sanctuary: Make your room as quiet, peaceful, and sleep-friendly as possible. This means removing distractions (e.g., TVs, computers, phones, tablets, and so on). Hunt down and clear out any eye- and brain-stimulating electronics.
- Set up for slumber: Plan to cut out all caffeine after 2 p.m. Establish a bedtime routine that tells your body it's time for sleep. Even if you're not in your bedroom, limit all exposure to bright light within an hour of bedtime. Maintain dim lighting around your home before bed, especially in your bedroom, and set the bedroom temperature between 65 and 70 degrees.
- Wind down: Just before bedtime, consider taking a warm bath or shower, listening to calming music, or reading a book. You can also write in your gratitude journal and meditate before lying down.
Day 6: Embracing Exercise
Getting consistent exercise may seem daunting. The idea is not to force yourself into something disagreeable but to see exercise as a form of medicine that preserves your brain and body while improving your mood and decision making.
- Be realistic about your starting point: If you haven't exercised in several years, you shouldn't get up and run 10 miles. The goal is sustainable movement!
- Remove barriers: Plan how and when you will exercise. Don't find time; make time. To that end, have your exercise clothes and shoes ready the night before.
- Exercise with others: Engaging in physical activity with others helps keep you moving. Try drafting a friend into your exercise routine for one day of the week. Ask a co-worker if he or she would be interested in going for a walk at lunchtime.
Day 7: Medicate With Meditation
Meditation is one of the best ways to debug your mind. We're not recommending a specific type of meditation because the main goal is just to make it part of your day—like exercise. If you want to start with a basic technique that doesn't require technology, just sit and focus on your breathing for 12 minutes. Use Day 7 to try one form of meditation and continue the practice daily thereafter.
Expect this part of the plan to challenge you significantly. Before you start, remember that it's completely normal for your mind to be distracted when you try to meditate. That's the whole idea! Catching your mind when it wanders is the goal, so don't feel like you're messing up when you lose focus.
Day 8 : Strong Bonds
You'll benefit from this activity by spending at least 10 minutes of unbroken time connecting with another person each day. The catch: The connection has to take place in person or on the phone (or on a video chat), and it has to entail conversation dedicated to learning something new about the other person.
On Day 8, think about ways to make this effortless and ensure that the conversation takes up the full 10 minutes. For example, you could have a sit-down dinner with your family and take turns sharing the best part of your day or what you learned. Consider calling an old friend you haven't spoken to in a while.
Day 9: Taking Stock
How's it going? You might feel like you're just getting started, but now is the time to evaluate how the previous eight days went and where you want to go from here. Review any notes you've taken so far. What parts of the plan were the most challenging? What has been relatively effortless? You probably have work to do in some areas, and that's OK.
Take some time to think about where your mental defenses were weak. Did you feel like you wanted to skip your workout at the end of a stressful day? Did you have trouble resisting free bagels at the morning meeting? Ask yourself what might have contributed to these situations. Think about how best to prepare for these moments (for example, signing up for an exercise class after work and eating breakfast before the morning meeting).
Day 10: Move Forward
Bravo! You are on your way to a better life. You've begun to make significant changes that are affecting you right now on many levels, including your mood, metabolism, and brain function. Most important, you've started down the path of taking back your thoughts and actions—allowing you to break free from disconnection syndrome.
The last step of this plan is to create a framework so you can continue to benefit from the lessons in this book for years to come. These 10 days are meant for focusing on each technique one at a time, but you have to commit to them for life if you want to rewire your brain for lasting health and joy. It may feel impossible, but remember that incorporating even one of these recommendations into your daily routine is a major leap forward.
Adapted from Brain Wash, copyright © 2019 by David Perlmutter, M.D., and Austin Perlmutter, M.D. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.
David Perlmutter, M.D. is a board-certified neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his innovative work in brain research, including the 2010 Humanitarian of the Year Award and the 2002 Linus Pauling Award. Dr. Perlmutter received his M.D. degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine. He is the author of the #1 New York Times best seller GRAIN BRAIN, the GRAIN BRAIN COOKBOOK, BRAIN MAKER, and BRAIN WASH. He serves as medical advisor to the Dr. Oz Show. You can connect with Dr. Perlmutter on his Facebook and Twitter.