WHAT YOUR SMARTPHONE CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
It's mental health awareness week from 8-14 May 2017 and it struck me the other day that most people probably take better care of their smartphone than they do their mental health. Yet, unlike a smartphone, we can't simply revert to an earlier backup if things go wrong. If we accidentally add malware or a virus to our phone, we can wipe it clean, fairly effortlessly. Not so with our brain, as the below animation sets out.
Despite great progress, mental health stigma is still rife. The Royal family's Heads Together Campaign feels like it may have finally started to turn the tide. The problem is, we generally tend to fear what we don't understand and the vast majority of us have no idea how our brain functions. There is still much that scientists don't understand when it comes to the brain, but things are moving at a very fast pace and we now know much more now that we did even 10 years ago.
Everything we do, think and experience leave very real, physical traces on our neural circuitry; some positive, some not so much. If we can teach people the basics of how their brains work, I believe that we can not only reduce poor mental health, but maximise good mental health and its myriad of benefits, such as increased productivity, creativity and longevity.
The Mental Health Foundation's latest report, published on 8 May 2017, highlights how far too many people are simply surviving and only 13% are thriving. It shouldn't be that way and it doesn't have to be, We simply need to help people to get to know their brain and learn how to maximise its potential.
WHAT OUR SMARTPHONES CAN TEACH US ABOUT MAXIMISING MENTAL HEALTH
Thinking about smartphones, there are some parallels that can be drawn as to how we should probably look after our brain to help maximise its potential.
I have listed my top 3 below.
Much like a smartphone, our brains need to recharge to function properly. We hear it time and time again, but getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, exercising and meditating all play a crucial role in enabling our brain to thrive. The food we eat forms the building blocks of our brain and our body, while sleep enables us to consolidate memories and clear away the toxins we build up during the day. Too little sleep is thought to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's, due to toxins building up over time.
Exercise and meditation have been shown to produce the materials necessary to create new neurons and repair damaged ones. Exercise also produces a host of feel good neurochamicals that boost wellbeing.
2. DON'T HAVE TOO MANY APPS OPEN AT ONCE
The myth of multitasking is still going strong, even though science has categorically proved that our brains cannot multitask. One study demonstrated that those who thought they were good at multitasking performed worse than those who said they couldn't multitask. Our subjective reality we experience is always very different to the objective one we live in.
If you think of your working memory like a smartphone, you'll get a better idea of what is going on. You will be aware that you can't interact with two apps at the same time on your smartphone. Sure, you can have lots of apps running in the background, but you physically have to switch apps to interact with each one. Your brain is no different. You can only focus on one mentally demanding thing at a time. You can have plenty of other things floating around your head, but bear in mind that a busy mind uses more energy - thoughts require fuel. If you leave too many apps running in the background, your smartphone's battery will drain more quickly, as will your energy levels.
Try to focus on one thing at a time. Switching between tasks constantly just burns more fuel and is far less efficient or effective. Make a to do list and/or diarise time in your calendar for specific projects, so you aren't routinely being distracted by the other things on your to do list. Your brain likes to have goals, but too many at once without a clear priority isn't conducive to getting the best out of it and it is just tiring. Writing a to do list, is equivalent to closing the apps you don't need right now until the next time you need them, saving your battery and processing power at the same time.
3. BE CAREFUL WHICH WIFI NETWORKS YOU CONNECT TO
With data caps, it's useful to connect to free wifi networks to surf the internet. However, connect to the wrong one and you leave your phone open to hackers corrupting your operating system and taking control of your phone. We probably take for granted the things we watch, read and listen to every day, but we shouldn't. Our subconscious brain is constantly assimilating information and filing it away, irrespective of its source. While we may consciously be able to question any information we receive, our subconscious doesn't have the same filter. It tends to see things in black and white, good or bad.
You will likely be familiar with the concept of unconscious bias. Our subconscious is able to influence what we consciously think and how we operate without us realising, much like a hacker can take control of our phone by hacking into its operating system. The best advice, as always, is to test yourself for implicit bias and don't necessarily trust your 'gut' instinct, as it's highly likely to be biased. Be mindful that some of your thoughts and actions may be those of 'hackers', as opposed to your own... Left unchallenged, they become your own.
There are plenty of other parallels between a smartphone and our brain, such as unhelpful cache (bad habits) building up or the need to install the right apps for peak performance, such as adopting the right mindset. If you would like to know more about how we can help you and/or your employees reach their full potential by harnessing the power of the brain, please get in touch.
E: firstname.lastname@example.org T: 0207 993 4402