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Thought Thursdays

 Don’t be overwhelmed – ‘Feed’ your brain

2012-06-08 00:00
By Gerhard Cloete

We are all familiar with that feeling of being overwhelmed, even overpowered at work.  The boss wants it now and we have to cover for a colleague who is sick. And then we still have to do our own work. Suddenly everything is just too much and we feel totally beleaguered.  

Much is said about healthy eating for an optimally functioning body, but less emphasis is placed on how to ‘feed’ our brains correctly for optimal brain function.  

According to neuro-scientists, who study the functioning of the brain in everyday situations, the incidence of overwhelming the human brain is taking on the same proportions as obesity. It is just less evident.  Overwhelming goes hand in hand with the mental abilities of human beings that are simply stretched too far through multi-tasking, fragmented concentration and information overload. The problem is that no simple and clear information exists about good mental habits – not in schools and not in the workplace.  The result is that employees over-exert themselves in ways that are much more detrimental healthwise than eating an unhealthy diet.  

Two international neuro-scientists, Dr David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute (Australia) and Dr Daniel Siegal of the Mindsight Institute (USA), compiled The Healthy Mind Platter, for Optimal Brain Matter to address this problem.  


It consists of seven daily ‘exercises’ which aim to assist the brain to function optimally.  These exercises enable the brain to coordinate daily activities more efficiently and to balance and strengthen the brain’s internal connections, as well as interaction with others. 


The exercises consist of:

  • Focus Time – when we focus meticulously on a task in order to achieve a goal or when we accept a challenge with which our brain is actively and specifically engaged. Deep-rooted connections are formed in the brain in this way.  
  • Play Time – when we allow ourselves to relax or to be creative and experience pleasure in a playful manner. New connections are formed in the brain.
  • Connecting Time – consists of relationships with other people or time to appreciate the environment. Here our brain’s ability to relate with that which surrounds us is activated.
  • Physical Time – physical exercise strengthens our brain in various ways.  
  • Time In – to contemplate or think quietly about something. Focusing on positive thoughts, images and feelings helps the brain to function better.
  • Down Time – when we do not focus on something, we simply relax and let our thoughts wander. This gives the brain a chance to recharge.  
  • Sleep Time – when we give the brain time to rest. This is to consolidate what we have learned and to recover from the experiences of the day.  


According to Rock and Siegal, there is no specific recipe for a healthy brain that would suit every single person. Individuals differ and needs change over time. However, people need to be aware of the full spectrum of mental activities and should ensure that the right ‘nutrients’ form part of their mental ‘diet’ daily.  

In the same way that we would not like to eat pizza every day, our brain cannot function with only focus time and not enough sleep time. In essence, our brain needs sufficient opportunity to develop in various ways.  

Dr David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute in Australia will visit South Africa in June and will present a workshop on the subject of “Peak performance under pressure” on 19 June at Sanlam’s Head Office in Bellville in partnership with USB Executive Development Ltd (USB-ED).

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