Weight-loss fads come and go but the best way to keep our bodies physically fit is through a smart diet and consistent exercise; however, obtaining physical health does not need to be complex or difficult. We just need to form good habits and stick to them. You may not be surprised that the same common sense behavior holds true for obtaining and maintaining our mental health...
"The energy of the mind is the essence of life." ~ Aristotle
Since "we are what we eat," logic follows that a healthy diet is required for a healthy mind. As it turns out, the human brain is the most demanding organ in our body and what we eat helps determine how effectively we think:
- Eat Breakfast: The brain needs a steady supply of fuel (glucose) for energy and many studies have shown that skipping breakfast reduces people's performance at school and at work.
- Avoid Junk Food: Trans-fatty acids, common in processed foods such as cakes, pastries and biscuits, are the worst! They not only add pounds to your body, but are found to be correlated to several mental disorders, from dyslexia to ADHD to autism. Also, studies have shown that memory performance increases as trans-fats are decreased in our diet.
- What to Eat: Eggs, rich in choline, are used by the body to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; Salads, packed with antioxidants, can keep the brain young and in shape by destroying those damaging free radicals; Yogurt contains the amino acid, tyrosine, which promotes alertness by aiding in the production of the neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenalin; Legumes (Beans) are high in fiber, which has been linked to improved cognition; Green Tea is rich in polyphenols (antioxidants) that help prevent premature brain aging; and, the greatest brain food, Fish, contains omega-3 fatty acids, which lubricate a developing brain and help fight off dementia.
"We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves." ~ Buddha
We have discovered "food for thought." Now, let's take a look at "thought for food..."
Food is to our bodies as thought behaviors and mental exercises are to our mental state and the essence of our livelihood. A contented mind is a healthy mind and happiness comes from within -- it is almost entirely an internal phenomenon. External sources may bring about a short-term emotional response but long-term happiness and contentment is entirely self-created. Self-awareness is critical here. We must be "train our minds" and be mindful of what information we consume and what external sources are vying for our attention -- that those sources are leading us to ourselves and not suggesting an attractive, but misleading, path; We must learn to "be here now" and not dwell on the past or obsess over the future; and we must form those behaviors into habit to stay on our path...
I believe one of my favorite authors and experts on emotional intelligence and self-awareness, Daniel Goleman, makes my point better than I:
...meditation is mind training. If during [a walk] you daydream, you plan, you reminisce, you listen to some music on your Walkman, you are not training your mind at all. If during that time, however, you are more disciplined and pay close attention to what you are experiencing, like the wind on your face, the smells and what you see, and you don't let yourself get lost in thought, that is mindfulness training -- bringing your mind back to the moment whenever it starts to wander. Then you are actually acquiring mental skill. If you do that kind of practice regularly, with discipline, and you do it daily, you actually begin to reshape the brain circuitry for emotions and for perceptions in quite a powerful and beneficial way.
Now we have a foundation for placing ourselves in the present moment and for "mindfulness training" but what about those sources of information? What should we read? How do we discover ourselves? Where do we start? Of course, no one but you can tell you "how to be you" but, if you've not read the posts, "Who am I? Part One: Emotional Intelligence," and "Who am I? Part Two: Learn How You Learn," I suggest beginning there. I have also posted on attention allocation but I will yield to Goleman again to crystallize my thoughts:
If you do Tai Chi every morning, or yoga, you are doing that with your skeleto-mucular system and perhaps your attention, if you are doing it mindfully. If you are doing mindfulness meditation, you are doing it with your ability to attend to the moment. However, if you are reading a book like "The Power of Now" but don't do anything about it, you may feel great while you're reading, but it is not going to help you in the next moment. If you do a practice and train your attention to hover in the present, then you will build the internal capacity to do that as needed -- at will and voluntarily. (emphasis added)
In summary, a simple healthy diet of the right foods, the right frame of mind, and the right sources of information will combine to place us on the right path -- the one that is ours -- not the one paved by attention thieves and social conventions...
What foods work well for your brain? How do remain "mindful?" I'd love to hear the thoughts of the smartest blog readers in the blogosphere -- you...
11 Steps to a Better Brain, by Kate Douglas, et al, NewScientist.com
Boost Your Brain Power, by Dr. Maoshing Ni, Yahoo! Health
Interview with Daniel Goleman, by Dennis Hughes, ShareGuide.com
TFPAuthor, Kent N. Thune, QPFC, is the President and founder of Atlantic Capital Investments, LLC (ACI), a 'fee-only' financial planner and Registered Investment Advisory firm located in Mount Pleasant, SC.