"How to Simplify Your Life by Using Your Brain" by Sarah Boyd

Sarah Boyd (Photography River Bennett)

Endless ‘to-do’ lists, deadlines, information overload, and multiple conflicting priorities often lead us into a state of stress, anxiety and overwhelm. Our brains feel like mush and our minds are in a state of frazzle.

And while we’re in this mental state we feel pressure to perform our most creative & meaningful work, and engage with our loved ones in a positive manner.

Our brains are not designed to cope with the endless set of demands that we place on it & then produce our best work.

In terms of our brains, the main part that is in control of all our executive functions is the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain is in charge of: planning, prioritizing, setting goals, self- control, creativity, & problem solving.

One of our challenges is that this part of our brain is a bit of a diva – it has to have conditions ‘just right’ to work optimally, and it only has a limited amount of energy before it needs a break.

When you have pushed your prefrontal cortex too far, some of the things you will experience are: feeling overwhelmed; anxious; like you’ve hit a mental and emotional wall; ‘brain-dead’; and you will probably have sugar cravings and headaches.

On top of this, studies show that you will take a significantly longer time to achieve tasks, you will make more risk-adverse decisions, and you are likely to miss important information because your brain can’t work out what information to pay attention too.

So what do we do to take care of the diva demands of the pre-frontal cortex?

Consider HOW you are doing your work…

1. Take regular breaks: every 25-50mins (or earlier if you feel like you’re hitting a wall). Stand up, walk around, have a glass of water, stretch. Even if it is only a few minutes it will help your brain recharge. Do this even when you don’t ‘feel’ like you need a break.

  2. Exercise: 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise has been found to balance the neurochemicals in your brain even more effectively than taking an anti-depressant. Get your walking shoes on!

3. Try yoga or mindfulness meditations: mindfulness dampens the stress response in the body, halves risk of depression, & increases empathy and compassion. This will especially help you to be kind to yourself.

4. Do activities that make you feel relaxed and positive: this will help the brain activate alpha brain waves, which have been found to encourage insight and creativity. This is why all your best ideas come in the shower. So there’s a good reason to get that massage, watch a comedy, and just relax.

5. Prioritise important work: do your most important work first thing in the morning, or after exercise. This is when your mind is the most clear and you will make the best decisions.

Being kind to yourself and taking care of your brain this way will significantly increase your productivity, creativity and peacefulness in your life.  


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