The Healthy Mind Platter is a wonderful concept for the equally wonderful Dr Dan Siegal (author of many books exploring social-emotional development and behaviour management) and David Rock. It is now a decade old, but still very useful.
It explores 7 essential mental activities to optimise brain function and support wellbeing. Some of these are required daily, like sleep, time to focus and connect with people, others we might schedule in several times a week, like physical time and down time.
Consider a ‘menu’ of activities that you could engage in for each category, and how you will ensure that across a week that you do a combination of each to support your wellbeing?
+ FOCUS TIME: When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
Often learning requires us to focus, we need to be able to pay attention, deeply, to learn and then retain complex concepts. Often our attention is broken by the pull of digital devices and notifications – so we need to be able to protect our focus in order to complete tasks and stuff that is important to us and our future.
+ PLAY TIME: When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.
We primarily learn through play. Modern play might involve digital play and online games. The trick with these is to ensure that you play a variety of games that challenge you and build your skills. Being able to find enjoyment in offline activities is also very important.
+ CONNECTING TIME: When we connect with other people, ideally in person (if possible), and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry.
Humans need each other, rich conversations and opportunities to belong help keep us happy. Social connections are as important for wellbeing in some ways as good food nutrition, especially during adolescence. Meeting F2F or IRL has different qualities to online, though in our post-covid world we are grateful that technology has supported us to connect while we had to remain physically distant.
Finding meaningful and creative ways to connect, hang out and feel a sense of belonging is essential for our wellbeing, with more and more research demonstrating this.
+ PHYSICAL TIME: When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.
Many of us are simply sitting on our bums too much! Exercise doesn’t have to be at a gym or involve grunting and sweating. It can happen in just 7-minute intervals, it can happen almost without leaving your desk. You also don’t need to be sporty to be appreciate ethe value of physical fitness. Developing a positive attitude to movement and habits that get you moving will help you reduce stress and live longer! Research has shown young people who exercise more stress less during their HSC, moving your body literally burns off cortisol the hormone that signals stress.
+ TIME IN: When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.
This is time to think, ponder and listen to our own thoughts, this might be journaling or a mindfulness practice using an evidence-based app. Often we avoid being alone with our thoughts and fill every spare moment using technology. Instead, its valuable to stop constantly consuming information and process and reflect on the information we’re already storing in our heads!
+ DOWN TIME: When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.
It’s slightly ironic that some people actually need to schedule in time to ‘do nothing’! Many young people are over-scheduled and have no ‘free time’ to potter and chill out. When we are always ‘busy busy busy’ it impacts the balance around our wellbeing.
+ SLEEP TIME: When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.
We’re in an epidemic of sleep deprivation. Humans are not prioritising sleep and rest. Often technology habits are eating into when we should be sleeping, sometimes this is called ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’. Sleep helps regulate our mood, memory and metabolism, without enough of it our wellbeing is put at risk of conditions like dementia.
Read more: Announcing the Healthy Mind Plate – 2011