Mind Matters

Thought I forgot about my brain hacks series, did you? Luckily I always have my paper with me so I can jot down ideas as they popped into my head. Unfortunately, I have had so many ideas for other things I need to do (putting food on the table comes first, after all), I am just now circling back to this fascinating subject.

Here is my next-to-last post about brain hacks … at least for now. I’m sure as time goes on I will discover new hacks to try, and I will be sure to share them when I do. This post is a “round up” of the leftover hacks I haven’t already mentioned, in no particular order. The next post (whenever it happens … I’m still trying to establish a regular schedule for the non-foraging posts) will focus on things I don’t do.

(If you missed the previous posts in this series, they covered writing things down, exercise, sleep, and nutritional supplements.)

Speaking of which… I am actually cutting back on nutritional supplements because they are so industrial and processed and removed from anything resembling a natural ingredient. I struggle to reconcile their use with my beliefs about what is good and necessary for the future of our planet. The only brain pills I take any more are COQ10 (force of habit) and magnesium. I can actually tell, I mean really tell, when I have taken magnesium by the intensity of my dreams. And dreaming – like sleep quality – may improve cognitive function. So I am unwilling to give up on magnesium just yet.

Yin Yoga

I have tried meditating. I have read tons of books on meditating. I am super “into” mindfulness and presence, I swear I am. But when I try to sit still, and close my eyes, and empty my mind… I fall asleep. End of story. Which is awkward when you are sitting, rather than laying down. I first learned about yin from Smart Girls Screw Up Too (which is an okay book, as far as self-help books go, but I had already read all her main points in other books… except for yin). Yin provides me with a physical practice for meditation, which is an amazing mental reset especially around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, when I hit a creative wall. Full disclosure: my step-brother, Travis Eliot, is a yin yoga instructor and has given me free products of his. However, I found yin yoga independently of Travis, and I highly encourage anyone interested to find a local teacher. Yin can be practiced with videos and books, but you should really experience it with an instructor-led session before trying to do it on your own at home.

Avoiding Artificial Lighting

Exposure to artificial light can be downright debilitating from a mental health and well-being perspective. I didn’t realize how great the impact was until relatively recently, around a year ago. I had switched to a work environment featuring mostly natural light, with no real thought about mental function. A few weeks later, however, I spent an entire day under artificial lighting – you know, those glaring fluorescent lights so common in public spaces – and by the end of the day I was completely wiped out and utterly drained. Since that eye opening day, I have paid much more attention to the lighting around me – and where I am at my most creative and productive – and there is definitely a correlation between natural light and better functioning.

Emotional Freedom Technique

Yes, really. Stop judging.

This is probably the most “woo-woo” thing I do, but I wouldn’t keep doing it unless it helps. I use the emotional freedom technique (EFT) – also known as tapping – to help manage inappropriate emotional responses. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill emotions, or emotions which are natural and constructive (such as sadness or grief when dealing with loss). I mean disproportionate or exaggerated mental conditions which don’t help or can even hurt when coping with the situation which caused them. For instance, having a panic attack when being lost driving to an appointment. Frustration is appropriate, concern is appropriate; a full on breakdown is not appropriate and only makes the situation worse. Taking your anger out on your family because you are upset about a work situation is another scenario where EFT can be very useful. Losing your cool over ‘ruining’ dinner (because it’s running late) when you’re actually struggling with the illness of a loved one… I could go on. I know it sounds weird and hokey, but it really has made a difference for me. Sometimes multiple rounds of tapping are needed, depending on the strength of the emotion. Then, once the negative emotions have dissipated, my mental clarity improves and I can deal with whatever it is in a more constructive fashion. I actually bought a physical copy of the EFT Manual, because it has helped me so much.

Learning New Things

I also attempt to learn new things on a regular and ongoing basis, to give my brain reasons to fire neurons in new patterns. Especially new things that involve patterns or puzzles. Foraging is actually HUGE for this, because as I learn about plants, I start to pick up patterns and use my newfound experience to draw new conclusions. Sometimes I learn things to reestablish dry, dusty neural pathways. I recently started daily foreign language practice for this reason (using an app with a particularly annoying green owl). I had learned Spanish a long, long time ago and relearning / remembering seemed a great way to stimulate my brain. (And not just because the green own says so in one of his little pep talks!)

Intermittent Fasting

I admit, I hesitate to address intermittent fasting (IF), because so many articles and individuals treat IF as just another fad diet. That’s not why I, and many people, do it. Well, “try” to do it in my case. I always start my day with a cup of bulletproof(-ish) coffee, which is “OK” according to at least one IF proponent. Aside from the coffee, my goal is a eating window of noon to 8 p.m. daily, but it rarely seems to work out that way. Particularly on days when I work out… or the days after I work out… or Monday mornings… ok, just most mornings. Yes, IF restricts calories, but this isn’t done for weight loss. Rather, calorie restriction can actually stimulate neurogenesis. I’ve also toyed with a “one meal a day” approach to IF, where one or two days a week you only eat a single meal, or otherwise consume calories within a very narrow timeframe, say an hour or so. Unfortunately, I found myself obsessed with food and eating on the days I tried it. Like, “spent the whole day thinking about what I would eat during that hour” kind of obsessed. So even if it did improve my brain activity, it was ENTIRELY wasted on thoughts of food!

Anything Else?

As mentioned earlier, I am always on the lookout for new things to learn. Have I missed anything in my roundup of brain hacks? What have you tried (successfully or otherwise) to keep your mind sharp?

Please note: I am not an affiliate marketer and I do not get commissions if you buy any of the referenced books from Amazon.com. I highly recommend looking for them at your public library. If you would like to support my work, you can hire me to perform a wild edibles assessment for property in the northern WV, central MD, northern VA, or southern PA area; hire me to speak or write about foraging, permaculture and sustainability; or consider making a donation.

One comment

  1. Meditation is a long term investment… if you fall asleep, just roll with it, then meditate again same time next day. Experience taught me I need an absolute routine: every single day, same time, same place, same posture, so far as I can. Away from home I still keep the every single day, same time rules. The benefits were enormous. Meditation was the first step on the path to freedom from my compulsions and understanding my past. All of this played out over decades though; not worth it for brain hacking or incremental gains in mental sharpness; totally worthwhile for inner freedom!

    On fasting days, I have a continental breakfast (toast and butter or a clif bar), then only fluids until evening, when I have a large meal. The small breakfast is small enough to make me very hungry, but large enough so I don’t obsess about supper.

    I think you talked before about fresh air and walks. When I’m blocked at work, I take a walk around the building, and usually I’m all set by the time I make it back to my desk.

    Thanks for EFT. Very often at work I get so worked up I can’t think about my actual problem. I’m going to try this as a way to jolt my brain back into better paths.

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