The proven benefits of being mentally tough include improved levels of performance, greater positivity, enhanced ability to adapt to transition and change, and being better able to manage stress and pressure. These enable you to achieve a greater all round sense of satisfaction and wellbeing. Since what you think determines, for the most part, your subsequent behaviour then it figures that taking care of your brain to ensure it remains healthy and active is critical to your short and long term success.
Extrapolate an individual’s success across an organisation you can see why it is advantageous to look for improved mental toughness and activities that promote an active and healthy brain. This link is explored by medical practitioner Dr Jenny Brockis in her book Future Brain (John Wiley & Sons, 2016) where she also discusses the concept of neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to form new connections between existing neurons), which is what enables us to learn new skills.
She also suggests 7 tips for a healthy brain which are also important to achieving greater mental toughness;
1) Feed it well
Food choices can influence memory, cognitive skills, mood and overall mental health, as well as our ability to perform in the workplace. Dr Jenny Brockis recommends a diet of fresh unprocessed food, including leafy greens, lean protein (particularly oily carnivorous cold-water fish, such as salmon), dark chocolate, seeds, nuts and whole grains. Caffeine is good in moderation, while trans fats are universally bad.
2) Get physical
Working out increases blood flow to the brain, which strengthens existing neural networks and assists the generation of new neurons, leading to greater neuroplasticity. It also decreases the risk of cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative disease. Brockis recommends 150 minutes of aerobic activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity interval training each week. She warns that sitting for lengthy periods is detrimental to brain and overall body health.
3) Sleep well
Not surprisingly, Brockis argues that sleep is essential for a healthy brain. Despite what many people think, everyone performs better with a minimum of seven hours’ sleep each night, as consistent lack of sleep leads to an outcome akin to being slightly drunk. Sleep is not just the time when the brain repairs itself; it also enables long-term memories to strengthen, while improving mood and the ability to focus.
4) Exercise the brain
Brockis is also an advocate for brain-training exercises, starting with simple exercises such as cryptic crossword puzzles or learning new words and their meanings. But these only work when practised consistently (just like physical exercise). A key factor for exercising our brains is curiosity, which stretches our minds towards new ideas and discoveries and makes us more open to learning and remembering.
5) Manage cognitive energy
The brain has a finite energy supply but can be recharged quickly. Scheduling 20-minute breaks between 90-minute work periods can lead to greater focus and productivity.
6) Mono-task, don’t multi-task
Multi-tasking is a myth for all but 2 per cent of the population, and our ability to process multiple ideas at once is no different depending on gender or age. Focusing on one task at a time is a better way of ensuring each task is done well.
7) Focus on the moment
Brockis is also an advocate for mindfulness – focusing attention on the present moment, often through meditation – as a means of improving concentration, reducing stress, improving decision-making and even increasing lifespan. With its ability to reduce the production of the stress hormone cortisol, mindfulness can help conserve mental energy, as well as consolidate new learnings into long-term memories.
You can learn more about the excellent work of Dr Jenny Brockis at her website