It’s 5:42am on Monday morning. I just sat down on a plane and we have a few minutes until taking off for Philadelphia.
And I’m tired.
I slept for only 15 minutes last night, sometime between about 12:00am and 1:00am. I have no idea what caused it. Maybe I was just reeling from a great weekend with my family or feeling really excited about the week ahead.
Either way, I’m tired.
Which makes the topic I’d already been planning to write about even more fitting.
That topic? Our brains and how they’re our best asset.
Now, I know that Western culture has prioritized thinking over feeling and our minds over our bodies for decades now, to the detriment of a whole host of things. But I’m trying to make a point here, so hear me out.
For the moment (at least for this blog), let’s play along and say that we all actually agree with my statement — brains being our best asset. If it were true, how would it affect our behavior?
Well, first, let’s think about what happens when we value something. We think about it a lot. We put emotional resources into making sure that we care for that thing. We talk about it with others. We devote some sort of practice to it, making sure it works (exercise, routine physical exams, regular check-ins with people we love, etc.).
But for our brains — something that’s so valuable — I find that very few of us are actually doing any of this.
We expect our brains to show up whenever and however we want. We pump ourselves with caffeine so our synapses start firing again. And we constantly fill our brains with stimuli from our phones, our shows, our meetings, and thousands of other sources.
We’re not taking care of this incredible asset. And it’s having drastic effects.
There are articles about our society’s decreasing ability to focus. And people experiencing epic burnout.
And short-term memory loss.
All because we aren’t taking care of our brains.
Write What You Know
There’s a reason this topic is (forgive the pun) on my mind.
Work and family and friends and the latest news seem so much more important than taking care of my brain. More often than not, I would much rather grab a drink with a friend after work than go to the gym. I would much rather check the latest news than sit in silence. And I’d rather rely on caffeine as a quick fix than actually changing my behavior in order to get better sleep.
To counter my natural tendencies, I’ve been working to make some small personal changes when it comes to nurturing my brain, and they’re already leading to some big results. So I thought it might be useful to share them with you.
Better Choices, Better Days
So much of my brain power is spent handling external stimuli. For most CEOs, this is normal. It’s my job to understand what is or isn’t important and to make decisions or delegate. Because I so frequently need to deal with incoming messages, I’m choosing to set aside some time when I’m not being pinged every few minutes.
That looks like me putting my phone in a drawer on Sundays. For one full day, I’m not touching the thing. In fact, I’m putting it out of sight entirely. Why? Because, every day, the first and most consistent thing I want to do is reach for my phone to get a happy-hit and I hate that. Of course, I’m not alone. This is the general state of the “connected” world and phone designers and app developers know it. So, I’m working to train my mind away from this incessant craving.
Choosing a Book Over My Phone
Every night, I typically scroll pretty aimlessly through the news and through apps or other random things on my phone before drifting off to sleep. Again, this means I tend to get a hit of stimuli (and blue light) just before going to bed.
Instead, I’ve started to keep my phone downstairs. Since I still need an alarm clock, I bought an old-school version that sits on the nightstand next to me.
Still, I feel a need to reach for something to read when I lie down. Since my phone is downstairs, I grab a book. My new goal is to read one book a month and Brandi suggested a tip that will help me accomplish it: Take the total number of pages in your current book and then divide it by the number of days in the current month. This way, you how many pages to read each night in order to stay on track. Sometimes you’ll read more and sometimes you’ll read less, but you have a general sense of your daily target. It’s a great challenge and takes my mind away from wanting to look at my phone.
Leaving My Phone Behind While on Small Breaks
I know, I’m bringing up phones a lot. But I’m finding that they’re one of the greatest causes for my brain fatigue. So when I go on breaks at work, I’m leaving my phone behind. Frankly, I feel naked without it. But in leaving it behind, I’m finding that my brain is a little refreshed when I come back to the office.
Getting My Heart Rate Up
There seems to be almost a 100% direct correlation between me working out and my brain working well. I don’t just mean an easy walk. I mean working out with some intensity for 20 minutes or more, at least four times a week. When I work out, I find that my memory is better, my drive is stronger, and I’m an overall happier human.
Sleeping at Least Seven Hours a Night
A friend once told me, “When you sleep, it’s a reminder that the world continues to work without you.”
I love that so much.
Many of us forego sleep so that we can get a little more done. But if you’re anything like me, the difference between just 5–6 hours of sleep on any given night, compared to something more like 7–8 hours of restful sleep, is the difference between barely getting by and having an incredibly productive day.
Doing Something I Love On the Weekends
One other thing I’ve been intentional about lately: Scheduling something that feels life-giving for me, either by myself or with friends or family, during the weekend. For a while now, I’ve felt like I’m in a vortex, mindlessly planning my weekends, doing the same things, at the same times. And none of it was “bad.” I just needed to be a bit more intentional with how my rest days were being spent.
Doing something “life-giving” can mean a lot of different things, but when I do it, I actually experience an endorphin rush that leaves me feeling excited and grateful. Beyond that, I actually feel relaxed for the upcoming week. It’s a reset for me, which is why I’m fighting for it to happen each weekend.
Lastly, Tracking It
I’ve heard it said that you can’t measure what you don’t track, and I’ve found it to be so, so true. Did I actually read a book this month? I’m writing it down. Did I actually spend each Sunday this month disconnected from my phone? Tracking it. There are a million ways to do this, so I don’t think it matters so much how you decide to track it, but I think just finding something that works for you is enough. Maybe no one else is holding me accountable to these things, but I think being accountable to myself in this way helps me actually take my goals seriously, and tells me that I’m truly investing in caring for my brain — and not just saying it.
Originally published at www.gan.co on August 28, 2018.