86 billion. That’s the number of cells your brain has. Without a doubt, the gooey mass between your ears is controlling your body like nothing else.
It only makes sense to spend most of our time taking care of it. But we don’t. In fact, most don’t even think the brain needs care. Experts have determined that our modern lifestyle is chipping away at our neural pathways, making us slower, dumber, and less creative.
There are hundreds of reasons why that’s the case. To fix that, we need to be aware of the bad habits that we’ve picked up. To some these habits can come as a shock — for they never would’ve thought that damage they are doing to themselves through their indulgence.
Let’s see what they are.
The Disastrous Effect of Inactivity
Ever since remote work has become the norm, many people have found themselves not leaving their bedrooms. I know people who eat, drink, sleep and work at the same place all day.
The only exercise they get is getting groceries, which thanks to technology, can also be delivered.
Whether they realize it or not, it has grave consequences. Sitting for too long is directly linked to heart disease, obesity, depression, dementia, and cancer. More than that, it also changes certain neurons in the brain, for the worse.
It’s high time for all of us to understand a simple fact — movement is good. It releases endorphins that make us feel better, keeps our hearts healthy, and make our brains work better.
Excessive sitting during work makes us hold our breath as we type on our computers. You can notice this yourself. This leads to lower oxygen in the body and consequence muddy thinking, fatigue, and poor focus.
How to fix it
Now, I’m not telling you to hit the gym or hire a trainer.
20–30 minutes of movement is all you need. The popular 10,000 step rule is also a great goal to gun for. If you’re thinking — “I don’t have the time,” you’re lying to yourself.
From great inventors like Nikola Tesla, and Charles Darwin to the busiest CEOs like Jobs, Zuckerberg, Jeff Weiner, and Jack Dorsey, everyone is a fan of walking.
A simple approach is to walk and talk at the same time. Batch all the calls you can and take a walk. Before you know it, you’ll easily hit your goal and waste no extra time on it. Another approach is to have a standing/walking desk that helps you move more and burn more calories.
I know that you’re smart enough to be aware of the benefits. You just need to apply it in your life. And with these simple ways, there’s no excuse not to.
The #1 Killer of Concentration
The amount of information we go through on an average day is surprising. The average American consumes about 34 gigabytes of data and information each day — an increase of about 350 percent over nearly three decades — according to a report from the University of California, San Diego.
No wonder — our number one concentration killer is constant sensory input.
This includes emails, social media, talking to people, notifications, meetings, and much more. If we don’t manage our consumption better, it can easily lead to overwhelm and information overload.
Some people are proud of the fact that they can get through a book on the commute at 3x speed and listen to 2 podcasts while also checking emails, books, and the news. But that’s nothing to be proud of.
Even a small piece of information can hinder focus. For instance, if you’re trying to concentrate on a task and you know an email is sitting unread in your inbox, it can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.
Use tools and processes to minimize the amount of content you consume daily. Try to take less short-form content and invest that time into reading long-form pieces. They hold your concentration and help you improve focus instead of jumping from one tweet to another.
Eliminate useless things like social media, news, gossip, and other things that you can’t control or have nothing to do with you.
Learn to be in the quiet as often as possible. Stillness and silence are calming to the mind, body, and soul. Regular periods of silence are the only remedy to our overwhelming content consumption.
Blasting Loud Music
Whether it’s working out, walking, or doing a mundane task like answering emails, all of us crave some nice music. And to immerse ourselves in our favorite melodies, we invariably turn the volume up.
However, you might want to think hard before doing that. With the popular use of noise-canceling earphones, you can easily damage your hearing. When your ears get used to a certain volume, you need to put in more effort to hear the normal sounds of those around you. Thus, you can’t store things in your memory fast enough.
Headphonesty says to remove your headphones while listening and hold them at arm’s length. If you can still hear the music, turn it down and repeat. This is a good check to keep protect your ears. Also, take regular breaks if you have to listen to music and give a much-needed rest to your brain and ears.
Even without headphones, beware of being in environments with loud music such as clubs, studios, or concerts. A 50-year old mean reported a chronic headache after headbanging at a metal rock concert. His CT scan revealed a blood clot on the right side of the brain.
This is not to say the same will happen to you. But loud music hurts our brains in more ways than we can imagine. It’s best to lower the volume — you can still enjoy the music you love without damaging your brain.
Watching Reality Shows
In India, as in most countries I assume, reality TV is a big thing. Naturally, people are attracted to drama (often fake).
When I caution people (and myself) from watching such shows, they say “It’s harmless!” I say, “Well, yeah, eating a burger every morning also seems harmless but over time it has disastrous effects”
The truth is “Reality TV is junk food for our brain, and in the same way that junk food rots our teeth and makes us sick, bad reality TV rots our brain and makes us rude,” says psychiatrist Dr. Marcia Sirota.
What we watch has a definite subconscious effect on us. When you walk out of a theater after watching Captain America, you naturally feel righteous, selfless, and even patriotic. Now imagine conditioning your brain with the trashy content in reality shows.
Over a period of time, we imbibe within us the same emotions and qualities we see on screen. I can intuitively know a lot about you by the kind of content you watch. Because it has a significant effect on our consciousness, moods, and behaviors.
Just like a slowly dripping faucet can waste gallons of water in a day, you can waste a lot of brain potential spending time watching the wrong type of content.
Doing Twice as Much as You Should, Half as Well as You Could
Wondering what I’m talking about? It’s multitasking.
Multitasking is chipping away at your concentration one interruption at a time. In recent years, multitasking is promoted as a desired trait in people and often makes it to the job descriptions of many roles.
However, the fact is that humans are not made to multitask at all. We can’t do two things and give equal attention to both of them. Only computers can do that.
A juggler seems to be juggling three balls at once. It looks as if he’s giving equal attention to each of them, at the same time. However, he’s continuously switching between the balls which give us an illusion of multitasking.
Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, says today’s nonstop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves — and he says there’s evidence it may be killing our concentration and creativity too.
At first, he was fascinated by people who claimed to be able to do more than one thing at a time. These people must be really intelligent, he thought.
However, when he studied them, he found the reality to be the opposite. They were beaten by their peers on all sorts of cognitive tasks and are “sucker for irrelevancy.” He also added,
“People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand. And even — they’re even terrible at multitasking.
When we ask them to multitask, they’re actually worse at it. So they’re pretty much mental wrecks. (laughter)”
Research has also found that the people who multitask have less density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy and cognitive and emotional control.
In essence, the more you multitask, the more you damage your brain.
To get out of this loop, figure out your ONE Thing. Ruthlessly prioritize your life to only focus on the essentials. The fear of not completing our to-do list is the reason behind our multitasking habit.
The solution isn’t to work more. The solution is to chip the list short and only keep what matters. Once you do that, you’ll no longer feel the pressure to do ten different things at one time.
When that pressure is lifted, your focus and creativity also heighten leading to better output in less time.
Sugarfree — “Is It Free of Sugar or Is the Sugar Free?”
We live in a world where sugar is everywhere. There’s no processed food that doesn’t contain sugar in some form — simply because it’s addictive and helps food brands sell more units.
As consumers, we need to be wary of this fact. Sugar consumption can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels and create abnormal blood flow patterns in the brain. Excessive sugar consumption can also lead to oxidative stress which in turn leads to moods, depression, poor memory, low concentration, and slower thinking.
Basically, your brain will underperform and you won’t even know why.
To control your sugar intake, I’d suggest journaling your food choices for a day or two. Since sugar is so pervasive, it can end up in your mouth before you know it. By being extra vigilant, checking labels, and even avoiding processed food, you’ll be off to a good start.
These were some of the overlooked habits that are hurting your brain in the long run. At one point, I was probably indulging in all of the above. But after cutting back, I find myself more productive, less moody, and much happier.
Along with them, don’t forget the basics of good brain healthy — good diet, sleep, drinking enough water, etc.
Taking care of our brains is our responsibility. It won’t magically take care of itself if we live our lives according to our whims and fancies.