SGM Mar 2018 Weekly Message Two: “Boosting Energy, Mood, and Memory

SGM Mar 2018 Weekly Message Two: “Boosting Energy, Mood, and Memory

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Welcome to this week’s edition of Spiritual Growth Monthly. I’m Kevin Schoeninger. It’s great to have you with us here at SGM!

In the second week of each month, we review a specific book or tradition for the practices that it offers. The key to our personal transformation is to apply our insights by practicing them daily. Our reference for this month’s practice is the book “Rewire Your Brain” by John B. Arden, PhD.

In Arden’s clinical practice he works with a wide variety of issues ranging from depression, anxiety, and stress, to making life changes such as quitting smoking, losing weight, and career changes. No matter what issue his clients show up with, he begins with a few basic building blocks for a healthy lifestyle. In fact, he tells many of his clients that he won’t work with them on their bigger issues until they attend to a couple basic behaviors.

Two of these basic healthy behaviors are eating well and exercising. The effects of these two actions are so profound and far-reaching that is it fruitless to talk about learning greater self-awareness, shifting negativity, and learning new skills until these two issues are addressed.

Arden says that he runs into a lot of resistance to his basic request. Clients often tell him that’s not what they came in for. They often fail to see how daily aerobic exercise and eating three balanced meals per day relates to their issue. However, according to Arden’s clinical experience and the findings from numerous studies, daily aerobic exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet competes favorably with most any form of therapy and medication.

These two actions have tremendous benefit to all life issues with only positive side-effects. They apply effectively to low energy, chronic sadness, depression, stress and anxiety, procrastination, and pervasive negative feelings. Exercise and nutrition raise your baseline energy, increase your willpower, boost your positive feeling, and improve your ability to concentrate and focus so that you can then learn new skills and make more significant life shifts.

Let’s talk about how each of these work, then we’ll talk about training your mental skills from this solid foundation.

We’ll begin with giving your body and brain the fuel you need to operate at your best—in other words, good nutrition. A first helpful idea in this context is to think of minimizing things that put your body and brain at a disadvantage and maximizing those things that boost your body and brain function. With that idea in place, also realize that you are an individual who has your own unique bio-chemical responses—you have to find what works best for you.

To find what works best for you is to keep track of everything that you eat and drink for a few days up to a week. Make note of exactly what you eat and drink and how much. Note your Energy and Mood before you eat, then 15 minutes after, and an hour afterwards. Get to know your patterns. Then, make dietary changes and track the difference.

Personally, I’ve shift completely away from refined sugar and fried food, as well as limiting my intake of white flour, starchy carbs, and caffeine. These were digestive challenges and energy zappers for me.

Arden gives us several dietary guidelines:

The first is to eat a balanced nutritious breakfast. Even if you’re not hungry, don’t skip breakfast. Not only does breakfast give your brain and body fuel for the day, it also sets your metabolic tone for the day. If you’re having coffee and something sweet as a breakfast, or nothing at all, you’re setting yourself up for an energy and mood rollercoaster. Not only are you not providing your body and brain with good fuel, but you’re priming a manic-depressive type of energy and mood cycle. This also primes an addictive cycle where you find yourself craving more and more sugar and more and more caffeine.

In addition, refined sugars trigger the release of stress hormones that last for as long as five hours. Excessive sugar makes your pancreas secrete more insulin than usual which takes too much sugar out of your system and leaves you craving more. A diet high in sugar also accelerates the process of glycation which contributes to accelerated aging. Glycation promotes inflammation which is a precursor to just about every known illness and life-threatening condition. High sugar intake is also associated with depression, withdrawal, anxiety, and aggression. Add the adrenaline boosting overstimulation of caffeine to that mixture and you’re in for a rough ride.

Instead, Arden suggests a balanced breakfast such as an egg, whole grain toast or cereal such as oatmeal, and a small glass of juice (mixed with water). The simple action of eating a breakfast like this has been shown to provide consistent energy and mood, improve concentration and problem-solving ability, and boost the ability to be present and remember what you’re doing. In addition, this type of breakfast sets you up to desire more healthy food and to not desire those things that put you into addictive craving cycles.

As a general rule think of eating balanced meals, at regular times, with a variety of foods in as close to their natural state as possible. Many people do best by maximizing their intake of fresh vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruits, nuts, and some dairy while minimizing refined sugars and refined flours, fried food, alcohol, and caffeine.

Especially be on the lookout for trans-fats like those found in deep-fried foods, crackers, chips, cake, cookies, donuts, mayonnaise, margarine, cheese puffs, and some salad dressings—you can often spot these by the words “hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated.” Trans-fats wreak havoc in your body and brain. They alter the synthesis of positive neuro-transmitters, increase LDL cholesterol and plaque in the blood vessels, increase blood clots, reduce the amount of oxygen to your brain, and cause excess body-fat.

Finally, and very importantly, make sure that you are getting sufficient quantities of pure, plain water—about 64 ounces per day for most people. This alone can make a huge difference in your health, mood, and energy. It will also help you to feel full, help your body to process body-fat and release toxins, and generally aide your body in carrying out all important functions.

Again, you can use those guidelines to determine what works best for you.

Once you’ve fueled up to start the day, schedule at least 20 minutes per day for some exercise. While I recommend doing a combination of aerobic, strength, stretching, and meditative exercise in your workout week, make sure that you are at least doing something to move your body for 20 minutes every day. For those who are physically capable, it can be as simple as taking a brisk walk and doing a few stretches when you’re done. If you are not able to move like that, do whatever movements that you can along with deep breathing. If you are in a condition where you cannot move at all, even visualizing movement, while imagining the feeling of it, can have beneficial effects in your body and brain.

To boost your motivation for the above, here are some of the many benefits of daily exercise:

First off, exercise is an immediate stress reducer. It shifts you into deep breathing, improves your circulation, and releases the resting tension in your muscles which breaks the stress response and puts you into a relaxation mode. Exercise promotes lower blood pressure by improving the efficiency of your cardio-vascular system. It boosts your HDL or good cholesterol, while lowering LDL or bad cholesterol. It produces the natural good feeling neuro-transmitters (GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin) called endorphins without negative side effects. This keeps your stress hormones in check and has an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effect.

Exercise pumps lymph fluid through your body which brings nutrients to your cells and carries waste away from your cells. It boosts your immune response and the production of stem cells and other recovery and repair functions in your body and brain.

Combined with good nutrition in the right amounts, exercise is the best way to lose body-fat and maintain ideal bodyweight which is critical not only for comfort and optimum physiological function, but also for feeling good about yourself.

Finally, exercise has been show to prime you for accelerated learning. When you perform mental tasks after a good workout your uptake of new material is much greater. Your mental focus is sharper and your mental endurance is greater. Try studying, visualizing, or meditating after exercise and watch your results improve dramatically!

Arden gives us some great ways to practice memory skills. You might try practicing any or all of these mnemonic devices after a workout to sharpen up those neural connections and remember what is most important to you. These techniques heighten your ability to make positive associations so that you can retain important information easier. They also give your brain good exercise.

4 Powerful Mnemonic Devices

(from p. 80-83 RYB)

1. Pegs: associate something hard to remember with something easy to remember.

Acronyms are examples of pegging, such as the word FEED to remember the four-step process of Focus, Effort, Effortless, and Determination. Rhyming is another way to use pegging as in “One, two, buckle my shoe; three, four open the door.” You can associate someone’s name with a rhyme to make it memorable, as in “Stan the Man.”

2. Loci: also known as the topical system, associates each point you want to remember with a specific location in a room or other site.

This system has two main steps:

a. You memorize several locations at a particular site in a specific order

b. You then associate something that you want to remember with each location at the site

For example, if you are giving a talk, you associate an introductory point with the entry door into the room, another point with a location next to it, and so on around the room, finally associating your final point with an exit door. You could alternate the locations back and forth across the room to remind you to look out in varying directions toward your audience.

This is a great technique to use when you are rehearsing a speech or presentation at a specific location. You then can use the landmark locations that you’ve identified at that site to cue the points of your presentation. You can also rehearse in a familiar place such as your home or office with a series of locations and associations that you can easily remember in order. You then call to mind your familiar site no matter where you are giving your presentation and use your memory of the familiar site locations in order to cue you.

3. Story links: weave the information that you want to learn, remember, or convey into a story. As you tell the story, each part of the story highlights one of your essential points.

This is a great technique to do right after you’ve learned something new or after you’ve witnessed something that you want to remember. Tell yourself or someone else a story about it so that it reinforces the most important points in your memory. Practice telling stories by highlighting important positive details and insights to reinforce positive interpretations of events in your life.

4. Link: associate words, concepts, or phrases with a visual image.

I use a simple form of this when I think of something that I need to remember the next day as I am lying in bed going to sleep at night. I don’t want to take the time and energy to get up and write it down. So, I’ll slide a book from my bed-stand onto the floor next to the bed, far enough away to be conspicuous and hard to miss. I then look at the book and associate what I want to remember with seeing the book on the floor. When I get up in the morning, I see the book on the floor and remember what I associated with it.

You can use link to associate any visual mark or image with any piece of information. Tying a string around your finger to prompt your memory is another example of linking.

As our population ages, the decline of mental sharpness, clarity, and memory are becoming greater issues. With stress levels high, those issues along with low energy and negative mood can come upon us at any age. Arden shows us how we can proactively take care of these issues daily through good nutrition, exercise, and mental stimulation. In these three ways, you lay a solid foundation for your bigger aspirations and life shifts.

Until next time,

Find your best ways to practice these three healthy lifestyle habits,