We’ve known for a while the incredible power of the mind over the body, but there’s an abundance of scientific evidence that’s showing the mind isn’t always the one calling the shots. The relationship is a two way one, with the body also having a hefty influence over the mind.
Professor Sian Beilock is a leading expert on the brain science behind human performance. She highlights the importance of early movement for babies and young children as a way to support their cognitive development.
Beilock claims that for babies, there’s enormous benefit in providing them with plenty of opportunities to safely run around without clothes and baby walkers so they can freely explore their environment.
For young kids, it’s important to get them moving, not only for their physical health but also for their mental health and to support their academic performance. Beilock emhapsises the importance of the ‘4 R’s’ = reading, writing, arithmetic and recess. Recess may be particularly important for boys – running around may be particularly important for their academic performance.
Let’s not leave out the grown ups. Physical activity is also important for the rest of us. Beilock stresses the importance of activity, particularly aerobic exercise, on the structure and working of the brain, particularly thinking, reasoning and memory. Swimming, running, cycling, brisk walking, or cleaning the house with a rocket in your step can all improve mental health.
Beilock offers these ideas to strengthen the mind-body connection. Little things can make a huge difference:
- Reboot the brain during work by taking a break and going for a walk.
- Walking away from a difficult problem for a few minutes can help to bring around a resolution.
- Posture and expressions all influence mood. Standing tall can help you to feel powerful and confident and can communicate the same to others. Facial expressions cue the brain to feel certain emotions. Smiling, for example, can make you feel happier.
- For an exam or performance, study or practice in the same conditions that you’ll be performing in. Try to face the same position, stand or sit the same way, if you chew gum while you study, try to do it during the exam too.
- Journalling can be a way to ‘download’ worries from mind to paper. It can improve performance by reducing stress or the worries of daily life.
- Spend time in the outdoors. Science has shown us that walking in nature can recharge your mind and improve attention and the capacity to focus.
- Meditation, even for a few minutes a day, can help ease anxiety and pain, among other things. It can also add heft to self-control if there are habits that need breaking.
Our minds were meant to be strong, wild and beautiful – free to roam and learn and make us the best version of human that we can be. Anything we can do to maximise it’s potential – or to maximise the control we have control over it’s potential – will see to it that we flourish.