Success often looks easy, but certain tiny tweaks to your day can help wire your brain towards it, says neuroscientist, Dr Tara Swart. Here’s what she does daily
Is your brain getting in the way of your dreams and goals?
Dr Tara Swart has the solution, backed up by cognitive science, to how we can control the way we think, feel and act. Learn her new manifesto for living a better life.
1. Lavender or frangipani scent and an eye mask
I start my day having made sure I’ve had eight hours of good quality sleep.
During sleep we embed memories, new learning and make connections that lead to creative insights. If I have been restless or am jet lagged then I turn onto my side whenever I can during the night as this is the best position for allowing the cleansing of the brain overnight.
As I travel a lot, I will use an eye mask if the room is not dark enough or there are lights from gadgets, ear plugs if it is noisy, and the aroma of lavender or frangipani essential oils to anchor myself to sleep time.
2. Pre-think your wardrobe choice and single colour code when you’re travelling
I dress in the outfit I have chosen the night before.
Even after a good night’s sleep we have a bucket of cognitive resources in the morning that is not unlimited, and we deplete it with every decision that we make. This is the reason Mark Zuckerberg wears the same outfit every day.
I don’t want to do that, but I do have combinations of certain clothing items and accessories that go together so I don’t have to think about it too much.
When I travel, I stick to one main colour code for my wardrobe and only one set of accessories. I also have a morning routine that is the same every week day.
3. Have a vision board next to your bed
My vision board is right next to my bed so I see it at least twice a day, when I wake up and when I go to sleep.
At night the hypnagogic state (the point just before falling asleep) has “the Tetris effect” meaning the last thing you look at leaves a lasting impression on your brain.
In the morning, I look at my board and visualise that everything on it is true, as well as acknowledging the things that have actually come true since the beginning of the year.
4. Take at least 10,000 steps a day
I use technology to monitor my movement and make sure I walk 10,000 steps most days of the week. In addition, I go through phases of adding in a form of exercise I really enjoy such as yoga, boxing, Pilates or Zumba as this has a beneficial effect on the brain.
Oxygen alone is a resource for the brain, but when you do exercise you really enjoy, you release a growth factor called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is responsible for brain cell repair, regulating your mood, learning and memory.
I don’t beat myself up if I fall out of the routine of regular exercise as research shows that people who go from being inactive to taking up regular aerobic exercise can improve brain plasticity by 20-30 per cent.
5. Do 12 minutes mindful meditation on your commute
A study by Neuroscientist Amishi Jha showed that 12 minutes of mindfulness meditation per day increased resilience in US Marines compared to Marines who did less than 12 minutes or no meditation.
I try to do 12 minutes of meditation on the Tube if I get a seat and at least six stops uninterrupted. I also practice mindful eating, mindful walking and paying attention to people without interruption or distraction.
I think of mindfulness as a patchwork quilt of many small daily activities rather than just sitting down with my eyes closed and legs crossed.
6. Diarise quality time
I am very mindful of prioritising my time with family and true friends.
In a world where we are constantly switched on, with a temptation to work long hours, and the illusion of everyone else living aspirational lives, I make sure I switch off from technology regularly (anything from meal times to long digital detoxes).
I plan lunches, evenings and weekends with people I have a mutually nourishing relationship with and really take time to listen, talk and learn.
7. Write down what you’re thankful for
I have found journaling, and especially the reading back over my journal, to be the single biggest contributor to honing my intuition.
It has helped me raise from non-conscious to conscious: my underlying thought patterns, reactive behaviours when under stress, and how constructive it is when I listen to my gut as well as showing me what happened when I didn’t.
Dr Tara Swart is a medical doctor, neuroscientist and executive coach. More detailed information on all of these activities, and many more exercises are available in her new book, The Source – Open Your Mind, Change Your Life, published by Vermilion.