We generally think of the food pyramid when we think of what items should be on our plate to optimise physical health. What would be the equivalent of a recommended daily diet for a healthy mind?
“Life is always unfolding; you're always in an emerging process. The beautiful thing about being a human being is you have a choice. With awareness, you can liberate yourself and free yourself to your original aspirations. You can have a set of values, and dreams, and qualities of living that are your guideposts,” says Dr Daniel J Siegel, executive director of the Mindsight Institute and Clinical Professor at the UCLA.
He developed the idea of The Healthy Mind Platter based on many years of experience and study. Siegel is known as a mindfulness expert and for his work developing the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology. It is the interdisciplinary view of life experience that draws on a dozen branches of science to create a holistic framework for understanding of our subjective and interpersonal lives.
The Healthy Mind Platter recommends seven daily essential mental activities necessary for optimum mental health. These activities make up the 'mental nutrients' that your brain and relationships need to function at their best. By engaging every day in each of these, you promote integration in your life and enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities.
One way to use the platter concept is to map out an average day and see what amount of time you spend in each essential mental activity. Like a balanced diet, there are many combinations that can work well.
When we understand that the mind can change the brain itself, we become empowered to actually transform our lives. When we keep on doing the same thing over and over again, our neural channels become rigid. But neural connections are plastic, which means they can be changed, based on our focus. The areas of our brain that we exercise, the connections we focus on, get stronger. So you can rewire your brain!
Seven daily essential mental activities to optimise wellbeing —
Focus time: Focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
Play time: Be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, help make new connections in the brain.
Connecting time: Connect with people you care for, activate and reinforce the brain's relational circuitry.
Physical time: Move your body, aerobically if possible, strengthen the brain in many ways.
Time in: Reflect internally on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, integrate the brain.
Down time: Non-focused, without any specific goal, let your mind wander or simply relax, help recharge the brain.
Sleep time: Give the brain the rest it needs, consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.
Photo courtesy: Shazia Omar