You enjoyed the shopping and holiday season. Great!
You carefully selected one or several New Year's Resolutions. Excellent!
Now it's time to shift gears from resolutions to plans and realities...and there's one thing you may have overlooked.
Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, puts it best: "Our health starts and ends with brain health."
In other words, do you really believe you'll be able to lose weight, and to maintain that weight loss, if you are constantly stressed out, or depressed?
Or that you will be able to get a better job if you don't keep your attention, learning and decision-making skills in top shape?
So, let me suggest this.
The One, And Brainy, New Year's Resolution To Help You Keep All Your New Year's Resolutions...is to Pay As Much Attention To Your Brain As You Do To The Rest Of Your Body.
Every morning, when you see your face and body in the mirror, say a few kind words to your brain too. "Hi mate, I'll take good care of you today."
Just saying those words, every morning, should make a difference. Why not try? Requires zero dollars, and just a few seconds.
Little by little, you will probably want to go beyond words. You probably have been reading a lot in the media about brain health and neuroplasticity but, just in case, let's take a look at some good lifestyle options we can all follow to maintain, and improve, our sharp brains.
Perhaps they will inspire you to make 2017 a year of Brain Health!
1. Practice positive, action-oriented thoughts until they become your default mindset and you look forward to creating something mindful and beautiful every new day. Too much stress and anxiety--induced by external events or by your own thoughts--can kill neurons and prevent the creation of new ones.
2. Thrive on Learning. The point of having a brain is to learn and to adapt to challenging new environments. Once new neurons appear in your brain, where they migrate and how long they survive depends on how you use them. "Use It or Lose It" does not mean "do crossword puzzle number 1,234,567." It means, "challenge your brain, and often, with novel activities."
3. Learn more about the "It" in "Use It or Lose It." A basic understanding will serve you well to appreciate your brain's beauty as a living and constantly-developing dense forest with billions of neurons and synapses.
4. OK, remember that the brain is part of the body. Things that exercise your body can also help sharpen your brain: cardiovascular exercise enhances the creation of new neurons (neurogenesis), at any age!
5. Take care of your nutrition. Did you know that the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients we intake? As a general rule, you don't need expensive ultra-sophisticated nutritional supplements, just make sure you don't stuff yourself with the "bad stuff."
6. We are, as far as we know, the only self-directed organisms in this planet. Aim high. Once you graduate from college, keep learning. Once you become too comfortable in one job, find a new one. The brain keeps developing ALWAYS, reflecting what you do with it.
7. Explore, travel. Adapting to new locations forces you to pay more attention to your environment. Make new decisions, use your brain.
8. Don't Outsource Your Brain. Not to media personalities, not to politicians, not to your smart neighbour... Make your own decisions, and your own mistakes. That way, you are training your brain, not your neighbour's.
9. Develop and maintain stimulating friendships. We need social interaction for resilience and mutual support.
10. Laugh. Often. Especially to complex humor, full of twists and surprises, helping keep things in perspective.
As you can see, there are many things we can do...but it all starts with awareness and intention.
Every morning, when you see your face and body in the mirror, please say a few kind words to your brain. "Hi mate, I'll take good care of you today."
Alvaro Fernandez is the co-author of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness. SharpBrains.com is a popular blog tracking the latest brain fitness and brain health tips, and offering fun brain teasers to test and improve concentration and memory.