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The Healthy Mind Platter: how to keep your brain healthy and functioning to its full potential.

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

If you follow neuroscience at all, then you may have heard of Dr. Dan Siegel. He revolutionised neuroscience, incorporating research into mindfulness and eastern philosophies with science. He has written several books, which make neuroscience and understanding the brain and behaviour accessible to everyone. However, for me as a psychologist, his most useful contribution was the invention of the Healthy Mind Platter. The Healthy Mind Platter may look simple but I have found it to be a most useful tool in helping people understand the different elements of our mental health.

The Healthy Mind Platter is much like the food pyramid, which gives us a quick and simple glance at which foods we should eat the most of and which foods we should eat less often. The Healthy Mind Platter outlines 7 activities, based in neuroscientific evidence, that we should all do each day to keep our minds healthy. As most of us know, however, it is one thing for us to know what is good for us. But how to we implement long lasting change and real habits that help us to incorporate healthy activities into our lives? Well, this is how I came up with my own version of the Healthy Mind Platter in a therapeutic intervention. And here, I'm going to give you a sneak peek of how I use this technique with my clients.

First, we need to make a list of the activities we do in each category. I'll give a broad description of the categories and some example activities here.

  1. Physical time - This one is pretty self-explanatory. Physical exercise, anything involving moving your body. Examples include: working out, walking, dancing, yoga, sports, etc.

  2. Connecting time - Any time in which you are connecting with those around you. Sometimes an activity might involve more than one category of the Healthy Mind Platter. For example, you might go for a walk with a friend, which would count as active time and connecting time. Connecting time must involve actively engaging with the other person or people.

  3. Sleep time, again this is self-explanatory, the time that you are getting good quality, restful sleep.

  4. Down time - Time in which you are relaxing, chilling out, without any particular aim or purpose. This might include a gentle walk, a bath, watching TV or reading a book.

  5. Focus time - Time in which you are focused on a specific task and concentrating on this task. This might include work or study, reading complex material, or focusing on learning a new skill, such as playing an instrument or learning an activity such as riding a bike.

  6. Play time - Time in which you are laughing and having fun, or doing something creative. This might include just laughing with your friends and not doing anything in particular, or it may include singing in a choir, or painting, or playing a board game.

  7. Time in - Time in or reflection time is the one that I find the most of us struggle with. Time in includes time in which you are focused on reflecting on your thoughts, feelings or body sensations. One common form of time in is meditation or mindfulness, in which you either let your mind wander and observe your thoughts, feelings or sensations, or you follow a script or recording and mentally walk through an activity. Some people like to use a journal to reflect on their thoughts. Some express themselves creatively using art or music, some like to take a bath or shower, some like to take a walk or talk it through with someone. Some like to do yoga to really tune into their body sensations.

Once you have identified the activities you do in each of these areas, the next step is to rate how well you think you are doing in each area. Rate on a scale of 1-10 how well you think you keep up with each of these activities in the platter, considering you should be doing every part every day.

Next comes the most interesting part. Identify for each of the seven parts of the platter why you think each is important. Don't write why you think someone else would think it's important but why is it important to you. For example, I might write that I need eight hours of sleep each day to function to the best of my abilities. It's important to me to be a kind and easy-going person and to be able to focus on what I need to throughout the day and not sleeping enough gets in the way of this.. This then connects with your VALUES. Values are the personal characteristics that you strive to live by. For example, kind, caring, hard working, reliable, etc. They are different for every person, although there will be a lot of overlap. I will talk more about values in another blog, but for now I will quickly mention that if we connect our behaviour to our values, it is easier to make behaviour changes and act in the way that we want to. It is also easier to forgive ourselves for apparent mistakes if we at least tried to act by our values.

The final step after doing all this is to pick one area you'd like to work on and decide a clear and specific way that you'd like to change it. For example I see that I rated my sleep a 5/10 and I would like to increase that to an 8/10. So I decide I'd like to work on that. I'm currently only getting 6 hours a night on average. I decide I want to increase this to 8 hours. I need to get up at 7am so I need to get to sleep by 11pm. I decide to set a sleep routine starting at 9pm which involves winding down and relaxing, and to do mindfulness activities at 10pm to help me sleep. I decide to make sure I exercise in the mornings and don't drink caffeine after midday. I schedule some time in the evening planning my day for tomorrow so that I don't start worrying about it when I go to bed. I then review this after a week to see if it has improved.

I hope that this has helped you think of a way that the healthy mind platter can help you in your life. If you think you would like to talk about this more, please get in touch with me!

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