How to Use the Complete Brain
Thanks to Dr. Dan Siegel, a psychiatrist whose work combines therapy with intimate knowledge of the brain, I took a completely different approach to how I spend my time every day. The goal for Siegel is a healthy brain that sustains a person’s well-being. As he sees it, the brain needs proper nutrition every day. I had never heard it put this way, and by heeding his advice, I found that I could activate parts of my brain that could only thrive if they were awakened.
Siegel prescribes a “healthy mind platter” of daily nourishment, with the idea that a healthy mind leads to a healthy brain. On his mind platter he and colleague David Rock place seven “dishes.”
- Sleep time
- Physical time
- Focus time
- Time in
- Down time
- Play time
- Connecting time
Years of brain research lie behind these simple prescriptions, and since all aspects of life lead back to the brain, the nutrition offered on Siegel’s mind platter could be far more important to well-being than any conventional advice. Your brain has an enormous talent for integration, but more than that, if it is used holistically, the brain thrives by putting everything together.
In practice, adopting the mind platter comes down to two areas that need daily attention, inner and outer.
Inner nutrients: Sleep time, focus time, time in, down time
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Here is the area of subjective experience. A healthy day, as viewed by the brain, follows a natural cycle. There is enough sleep to be adequately rested. There is intense focus with enough down time to let the brain rebalance and find an easy resting place. There is down time for doing no mental work, letting the mind and brain simply be. A period is also set aside for what many Westerners neglect: time to go inward through meditation or self-reflection. This is the most precious time, actually, since it opens the way for evolution and growth.
Outer nutrients: Physical time, play time, connecting time
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This is the area of outward activity, which cannot be consumed only by work. As the user of the brain, you alone can give it time for recreation, and although physical time focuses primarily on getting your muscles to move, the holistic effect is to balance the mind-body system.
Healthiest of all is connect time, because it gets neglected the most in the rush of modern life. It takes a conscious decision to chat, gossip, and bond. You commit to building a family and find things to do together. As many sociologists have pointed out, this area of life used to dominate everyday existence, at a time when families sat around the fire of an evening and ate every meal together. Social habits change, yet it's still true, according to specialists in the field of positive psychology, that the happiest people tend to be those who spend one or two hours a day talking with close family and friends.
Inner and outer nourishment can't be strictly divided, from each other, since all brain processes are inner and all behavior is outer. The point is that the brain is a bodily organ that requires conscious attention and care. The upshot of taking Dan Siegel's advice was that I could assure myself that I was using my brain instead of the other way around.
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies