When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.
When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain's relational circuitry.
When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.
When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.
When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.
When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.
The Healthy Mind Platter Overview
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently replaced its food pyramid with a needed revision, a "choose my plate" pictorial example of a dish of food groups to remind us of what a daily diet should consist of to optimise physical health. What would be the equivalent of a recommended daily diet for a healthy mind?
The Healthy Mind Platter has seven daily essential mental activities necessary for optimum mental health. These seven daily activities make up the full set of “mental nutrients” that your brain and relationships need to function at their best. By engaging every day in each of these servings, you promote integration in your life and enable your brain to coordinate and balance its activities. These essential mental activities strengthen your brain's internal connections and your connections with other people and the world around you.
We're not suggesting specific amounts of time for this recipe for a healthy mind, as each individual is different, and our needs change over time too. The point is to become aware of the full spectrum of essential mental activities, and as with essential nutrients, make sure that at least every day we are bringing the right ingredients into our mental diet, even if for just a bit of time. Just as you wouldn't eat only pizza every day for days on end, we shouldn't just live on focus time alone with little time for sleep. The key is balancing the day with each of these essential mental activities. Mental wellness is all about reinforcing our connections with others and the world around us; and it is also about strengthening the connections within the brain itself. When we vary the focus of attention with this spectrum of mental activities, we give the brain lots of opportunities to develop in different ways.
One way to use the platter idea is to map out an average day and see what amounts of time you spend in each essential mental activity. Like a balanced diet, there are many combinations that can work well.
In short, it is important to eat well, and we applaud the new healthy eating plate. As a society we are sorely lacking in good information about what it takes to have a healthy mind. Since the mind is both embodied and embedded in our connections with others and our environment—both natural and cultural—these seven essential times help strengthen our internal and relational connections. And since the brain is continually changing in response to how we focus attention, we can use our awareness in ways that involve the body and our connections to create a healthy mind across the lifespan! We hope that The Healthy Mind Platter creates an appetite for increasing awareness of how to nourish our mental well-being each day too.
The Healthy Mind Platter was created by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute and Clinical Professor at the UCLA School of Medicine in collaboration with Dr. David Rock, Executive Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute.