You’re creative. You’re active and working on many different projects.
What is your greatest resource?
Your time? Your collection of inspirational stuff? Your network of connections?
How about your brain?
That little three-pound organ sucks up one fifth of your body’s oxygen. It devours a quarter of your body’s blood sugar. More importantly, when it functions well, the brain makes your creativity fly. You know those moments when ideas effortlessly come together, when you lose yourself in your creative endeavor? That is the brain at work. Neurons firing, synapses connecting, ideas being born.
It behooves us, as cultural creators, to take care of our brains.
Here are a few tips that I’ve culled from various sources. These should point you to ways you keep your brain healthy, and feed the creative fires within.
We could harp on for a long time about all the benefits of regular exercise. The main connection with the brain, however, is blood flow. The more freely the blood flows to the brain, the more fuel the brain has to energize all the creative work that you do.
Robert Butler says this in The Longevity Prescription:
“Exercise plays a role in enabling our bodies to handle everyday stress. Exercise has been found to be as effective as selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (a class of prescription antidepressants) in treating depression. Exercise can lower cholesterol levels and in some people, eliminate the need for cholesterol-lowering drugs. People who raise their heart rate and get the blood pumping vigorously through their bodies – and brains – have better cognitive function, too.”
You don’t have to strive to be a competitive athlete – just 30 minutes a day of moderate walking will be plenty to get the blood moving to your brain and provide a host of other benefits.
Nourishing the Brain:
Our society has this weird dysfunctional relationship with food. We think of diet as connected with body image, and we count calories and wonder what will make us lean. How about if we thought first and foremost “what does my body need”. If we make the needs the priority, I suggest that we wouldn’t have to worry so much about whether we’re eating a doughnut with our coffee or not. We’d just fill up first on all the good stuff, and then enjoy whatever treats we have room for.
What does the brain need? Daniel Amen has some suggestions in Magnificent Mind:
“Lots of pure water: the brain is 80 percent water.”
“Lean protein: Fish, chicken, lean pork and beef, for example all help build neurons.”
“Complex Low-Glycemic carbohydrates: These include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.”
“Healthy fats: Fish, avocados, and raw nuts all maintain nerve cell membranes and myelin”
“Lots of dietary antioxidants, such as blueberries. I often tell my patients to eat from the rainbow (food with many different colors, although this does not mean Skittles.)”
Neuroplasticity and Sleep:
Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman remind us of the powerful truth of neuroplasticity in their book Transcend. They point to studies that show that what we put into our brain (in terms of images, reading, etc) actually re-wires the brain. We also have the capacity to re-wire our brain by becoming aware of our thoughts and intentionally directing those thoughts.
“The lesson of these new insights is that our brain is entirely like any of our physical muscles: Use it or lose it. We all know what happens to your muscles if you are bedridden from illness or just living the couch potato life. The same thing happens to the brain. By failing to engage it in intellectually challenging activities, your brain will fail to grow new connections, and it will indeed become disorganized, and ultimately dysfunctional.”
Kurzweil and Grossman point to numerous studies that show that a significant part of the reorganizing work in the brain happens while we sleep. They suggest we shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep per night as a way of keeping our brains in top working order.
Above all, keep being a student. Seek out information about brain health. Take your health as seriously as you would take learning about your work disciplines.
whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable –
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –
think about such things.”