Have you ever stopped to think how the information you absorb all day long influences you? How does following the news, reading books, listening to podcasts, browsing the net and playing video games make you feel? And how does this mental input impact your thought patterns, brain chemistry and following physiological reactions?
In the previous post, we talked about the importance of minding your mental diet. We also covered 5 essential questions to ask yourself about how much and which kind of input you want to consume. Now it’s time for the next step: how can you crowd out the ‘mental junk food’ and add more ‘virtual vitamins’ to your mental diet?
Have a look at these 28 tips to nourish your mind in a healthy way.
How to Create a Nourishing Mental Diet
1. Cut Out the Noise: Dealing Better with Distractions
An easy step to improve your mental diet is to reduce the’ noise’ in life. Did you know that it takes roughly 25 min (!) to refocus on your task after being distracted? Focus on what’s important when doing high-focus work and spending quality time with family & friends by limiting distractions.
- Turn off social media notifications.
- Answer your email at set times a day, instead of reacting to every message that comes in. If possible, you should close your inbox in between those moments to get deep work done.
- Make a ‘no phone during meal times’ – rule.
- Minimize the unwanted noise in your life – the TV in the background, the radio that’s always on, it all demands attention from your busy brain.
- Don’t keep too many tabs open.
- A more hardcore solution: install blocking software on your phone or computer to counteract mindless scrolling during your most productive hours of the day.
- Don’t eat in front of the TV or behind your laptop. Distracted eating can prompt you consume 25% more calories than when you’re paying attention your meal.
- Limit interruptions when you need to concentrate. This might be harder to achieve because it involves other people you have no control over. But if your job and workplace allow it, improve the conditions for doing high-focused work by closing the door of your office or putting on headphones to signal you’re not available for small talk.
2. Feed Your Mind in a Healthy Way
In the previous post, we talked about finding a healthy balance between your virtual vitamins and indulging in ‘brain candy’. Here are some more thoughts on how to nourish your mind:
- Go analogue once in a while. Sure, it’s easy to carry every functionality you need in one pocket-sized gadget. But old-school habits like handwriting, reading paper books and listening to your favourite song instead of simultaneously liking photos on Instagram all have significant benefits for your brain.
- If you’re like me and the constant updates about the state of the world upset you, consider a news fast. In his book 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, dr. Andrew Weil explains how taking periodical breaks from watching the news and reading the newspaper can promote mental calm, which in turn improves your overall health. If you’re scared of missing out: when something truly important happens, you will hear it from your friends, colleagues or through your social media feeds.
- You know how people say you need a balanced diet to obtain all nutrients necessarily for a well-functioning body? Well, you could argue that the same is true for your mental diet. If you work behind a computer all day long, give your brain (and your eyes!) a break by going outside, playing sports or doing chores instead of turning on the TV when you get home. And when you’ve run around after your kids all day long, some quietude to recharge with a good book might be just what your mind needs. For an optimal mental diet, make sure you switch between focused work, daydreaming, time for play and creativity, and challenging brain activities.
- In that spirit: learn something new! Your brain forms new synapses each time you do something for the first time or learn an interesting fact. So listen to a podcast, visit a museum or learn a new language to make new brain connections (and maybe get some brilliant insights too).
- Read an opposite point of view. You’ve probably heard that social media algorithms are designed to show you more of the content you seem to enjoy (or well, clicked on). While that can be helpful in some situations, it can also affect your opinions and may contribute to polarization. So keep an open mind by occasionally buying a different newspaper, watching a different news channel or checking out classic reads about modern-day problems.
- Marketeers know this like no other: a picture speaks a thousand words. Make use of this fact by surrounding yourself with uplifting or inspiring images. Put up photos of happy memories, hang beautiful art work on the walls or create an (attainable!) vision board of what you want your life to look like. If the glammed-up pictures you see on social media make you feel insecure, jealous or like you’re not enough, .. stay away or follow… different people..!
- Take a hard look at the people you surround yourself with, both in real life and online. As difficult as this may be, try to stay away people that suck away your energy or create pointless drama. Instead, spend more time with those who inspire and support you.
3. Mind Your Thought Patterns
I once read that the majority of our thoughts aren’t unique – we think many of the same thoughts as we did the day before. Our repeated thought patterns have a big impact on our daily habits, our mood and overall health. So how can you give your thought patterns an upgrade and boost your wellbeing?
- Did you know that most of us make cognitive errors when we think? You might take things too personal, blow thing out of proportion or make general assumptions based on one-time events. If you want to learn to recognize your automatic negative thoughts (also known as ANT’s), check out the beginner’s guide to changing your negative thinking patterns.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness to create more inner calm.
- Take a “do not complain”- challenge. What you focus on, grows. In that same spirit: stay away from (mean) gossip.
- Are you prone to rumination? Obsessing over things in the past is one of the biggest predictors of mental health problems. Read when you should use distraction, thinking things through or mindfulness to stop the mental chatter in your head.
- Examine your beliefs. The things is, our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us are so deeply ingrained into our being that you probably find it hard to even notice or put into words what you think and feel about certain topics. But when you come across a belief or mental obstacle, ask yourself: Is this belief true? Is it helpful? Could I substitute this belief with an alternative that’s more constructive to me now?
- Choose your words carefully. Your inner dialogue prompts your actions. For example, research suggests that saying “I don’t [eat dessert anymore]” instead of “I can’t [eat dessert tonight]” significantly increases your chances of resisting sweet temptations.
- Set your intentions for the day. Intentions provide a road map of where you want to go and help steer your thoughts and actions in the right direction.
4. Make Time for Quietude
In our always on, always connected world oriented towards extraverts, making time for solitude and quietude is silently frowned-upon. But our minds need a break from the constant mental input every now and then. Your brains need time to process information, form new connections and come up with brilliant ideas. Here’s how you can build more quiet moments in your busy schedule:
- Take a mindful micro-break. Use your small pockets of free time to bring a little peace to your hectic day: do a walking meditation, repeat a calming mantra or practice deep belly breathing.
- Practice yoga, meditate or do a mindful body scan to relax your body and quiet your mind.
- Say grace before dinner.
- Schedule your phone to go on airplane mode 1 hour before bedtime. Or more drastically: put away your phone (and other blue-lit screens) in a different room to ensure a good night’s sleep and use an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake up.
- Leave time for daydreaming. Unlike our productivity-minded society has made you believe, mind wandering is the default mode of our brain – and actually the secret ingredient to getting genius ideas. So don’t automatically grab your phone or put on your head phones when you have to wait in line, at the doctor’s office or commuting to work. Just sit with your thoughts for a while. Because like Anne Lamott said: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes – including you.”
How do you nourish your mind?
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might also like:
- The Digital Diet: A Doable Alternative to the Digital Detox
- The Beginner’s Guide to Changing Your Negative Thoughts
- 5 Positive Psychology Books for a Happy, Fulfilling Life
This blog post contains affiliate links to helpful resources. All opinions are my own.