Whether you realize it or not, you already have 100 percent of your brain available to you at all times. The challenge is to put all that brainpower to work for you helping you succeed at work, in relationships, and experience personal success in every aspect of your life.
And you can.
When you understand how your brain works, you can maximize its performance and guide it to help you succeed in life. While all of your brain power is available to you all the time, there are many things that determine whether it has the potential punch of an elite race car engine or the limited energy of a golf cart. Much of its performance and power depend on you and your habits — how you take care of it.
Below are some brain basics you need to understand to help your brain operate at maximum capacity.
- Your Brain Can Only Perform as Well as the Fuel You Give It
Your brain requires a huge amount of energy just to keep functioning. The human adult brain makes up about only two percent of the body’s mass yet it uses 20 percent of energy intake. In children, the brain uses up 50 percent of daily glucose intake, and infants’ brains take a whopping 60 percent.
This is why what you eat is so important.
There is a clear link between your dietary choices and your brain power, cognition, and mental health. Growing scientific evidence indicates that diet plays a critical role in cognitive function and mental well-being and preserving both as you age. What you put in your mouth has everything to do with what goes on in your head, which can directly affect your success.
Science has determined that you have a “second brain,” the enteric nervous system, in your gut which communicates directly with the brain in your head.
To get the most brainpower out of your diet, you will want to include fatty fish, foods with probiotics, whole grains, leafy greens, and lots of lean protein. If you’re missing essential vitamins and minerals, your brain function will reflect it.
Also, food allergies and sensitivities can make your thinking fuzzy. Foods to avoid are:
- Processed meat (sodium nitrates)
- Artificial sweeteners
And know that dehydration can also contribute to sluggish thinking. Your brain is 75 percent water, and it needs to stay hydrated to work properly. Even mild dehydration can sabotage your cognitive power.
So, drink up!
- Sleep Is Your Brain’s Superpower
Other than oxygen, sleep is the most important factor determining brain health and function. Your brain simply cannot operate optimally on too little sleep. So, if you are skimping on sleep to get ahead in your career, you might be short-changing yourself in the end.
On an individual level, sleep deprivation can have serious short-term and long-term consequences. After just one night of too little sleep, measurable results can be seen in delayed reaction times, glucose levels, mood, headache, impaired memory, and hormone balances. One study showed that one week of sleeping fewer than six hours a night resulted in changes to more than 700 genes.
Another Swedish study saw changes in men’s brains after not sleeping for just one night indicative of brain shrinkage and damage similar to a brain injury. Lack of sleep slows down your thinking, impairs your memory, concentration, judgment, and decision-making, impedes learning, and contributes to depression. Sleep is absolutely essential for your brain to work properly because during sleep your brain is busy processing information, consolidating memories, making connections, and clearing out toxins.
- Your Brain Is Constantly Changing
Your brain is constantly changing from the day you are born until the day you die, whether it’s to your benefit or not, because of neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is an umbrella term referring to the many capabilities of your brain to reorganize itself over your life in response to your environment, behavior, and internal experiences. The scientific truth of an adaptive brain was confirmed in the 1980s and replaced the formerly held belief that the adult brain was “hard-wired” after critical developmental periods in childhood.
The truth is every minute of every day, your brain is literally changing its physical form and function in response to your experiences, behaviors, and even your thoughts.
Now, think about that.
If you are constantly stressing about finances, criticizing yourself for a mistake at work, skimping on sleep, or checking your phone the second it dings, you are changing your brain accordingly. Whether you know it or not, these habits are changing the neuronal pathways in your brain. What you do repeatedly — both good and bad — literally gets wired into the structure of your brain. This can help you or hurt you.
What you pay attention to, what you think, feel, and want, and how you react and behave all physically shape your brain. The point is you are changing your brain every day anyway. Why not intentionally use neuroplasticity to help you?
- Your Brain Needs You to Challenge It to Stay Sharp
Your brain is very efficient. Whenever possible, it minimizes the effort and energy required to do something by delegating control to your subconscious. Everything from speaking to driving can be managed by highly automated routines largely inaccessible to your conscious mind. Some routines are instinctual. Some are learned.
Because of this, many of us operate on autopilot most of our lives. With computers doing a lot of thinking for us these days, we don’t really have to actively think about what is happening or use our brain power. This means we stay in the “known” in our comfort zones. Living this way doesn’t ask much of your brain or make it very happy. When you go through life operating on automatic, not learning or actively thinking, it contributes to a dull, dreary brain.
When the pressure is on, routines are a highly successful and reliable use of your brain’s resources. You’ll want your practiced, go-to golf swing to show up when you’re on the last hole playing for the win. You’ll want to take the usual way to work when you’re running late for a big meeting. But staying in your comfort zone and following the daily routine doesn’t do anything to help your brain stay sharp.
Psychologists tell us that comfort kills productivity, creativity, and motivation. Your brain needs novelty to grow and stay sharp. Your habits may even be contributing to your brain’s decline. While doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku are good, they’re not good enough because these activities ask you to recall things you already know. Your brain stays healthy by doing novel things and being challenged. It’s important to kick your brain out of its comfort zone and into the enhancement zone by doing something that’s unfamiliar and mentally challenging regularly.
You want to push your brain beyond the known by learning new skills, hobbies, or sports, continuing to educate your mind, putting yourself in new social situations, and traveling to new locations, for instance. Stepping out of what’s familiar to you stretches your brain by forcing it to make new connections and allowing the neuron’s dendrites to blossom like trees with full branches instead of little shrubs.
Your brain health impacts everything you do — every thought, word, action, behavior, and feeling — literally everything. However, most of us know less about the command center in our heads, with its amazing abilities surpassing even the most sophisticated computer, than we do our smartphones. You can improve all aspects of your life, from health and happiness to your relationships and career, by learning about and taking steps to optimize your brain’s health and function.