A Top Neuroscientist's 4 Daily Tips For A More Resilient Brain
Your brain is working 24/7. It never takes a break. So why not make your brain work for you?
According to communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., author of How To Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess, all it takes is a few daily, intentional practices. Once you get the hang of them, you only need around 10 seconds per day to manage negative thoughts. From there, you can work on processing your trauma and ultimately preventing cognitive diseases like dementia.
Sounds like a tall order, but Leaf has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to easy, actionable tips for a more resilient brain. (We highly recommend following her five-step mind management plan, which we've covered before here.)
Below, find some of her favorite everyday tips:
Take note of your morning emotions
"The first thing I do every morning is take note of how I've woken up and immediately observe what emotions [I feel]," says Leaf. “Sometimes I'll wake up, and already the first thing coming out of my mouth is a complaint. I'll grab that immediately and manage it."
Your mind is very vulnerable when you first wake up, she says. If you fail to work through those sensitive emotions for the sake of getting on with your morning routine, they will no doubt affect the rest of your day.
That said, take the time to reflect on how you're feeling before you even get out of bed. "If I'm in a negative frame of mind, I may need to actually spend five minutes or so getting myself back to [baseline]," Leaf explains. "What happened? Was it a dream? Was it something unresolved from yesterday that I carried over and went to sleep with? I get that sorted out, and then that sets me up for whatever comes next."
Prepare your brain
Look, negative emotions happen. We'd be lying if we said you could avoid uncomfortable feelings entirely. The key is to prepare your mind for those waves of emotion, says Leaf, so that they feel more like ripples than tsunamis.
"The way we do that is brain preparation," she explains. "That can be as quick as breathing in for three seconds and out for seven; it could be a little affirmation just to get you in a place where you can calm yourself down; it could be something as simple as naming five things you can see, four things you can smell, then three things you can taste.
You can choose any calming practice you like—the key here is to ground yourself and connect your mind to your body. "It's those little tricks that will bring you into a state of general awareness and will then help with neurophysiology," Leaf adds.
Here are 21 extra grounding techniques, if you need even more inspiration.
Designate a safe space
Your home should already feel like your sanctuary—but according to Leaf, it's important to designate a space specifically for emotional reflection. It could be a corner in your home with a comfortable chair and relaxing decor. "It could just be a beautiful seat on your balcony," she says.
It functions just like any other intentional area of your home. "If I do yoga, I do it on a yoga mat. If I clean my teeth, I go to my bathroom," she explains. "It's this idea of designating. When we do that over time, we can train ourselves to associate mind work with that [space]."
Ultimately, you may be able to mentally bring yourself to that space without needing the physical chair, pillow, mat, or what have you. "You can be in a meeting out of your home, but you can get yourself back in that space," she shares. "The idea is to train that concept."
Don't worry (as much)
The answer isn't to stop worrying. That's impossible—and suppressing your worry is a major no. "We want to make it constructive again," says Leaf. She recommends analyzing your worry, asking yourself questions like: Why am I worried? What is my body feeling? Is this a genuine worry? From there, try to come up with an actionable plan to respond to your worry. "That way, you feel empowered," Leaf says. "As soon as you do that, you shift your physiology."
It's easier said than done, of course. But with a little practice, you'll be able to recognize and target those worries in no time.
It's easier than you think to harness the power of the mind-brain connection. "Your mind is your life force," says Leaf, and by managing your thoughts, it is possible to change the physical state of your brain and your body. "Your brain is changing anyway," adds Leaf. "Why don't you drive the change?"