Brain-Building: The Missing Key to Optimal Mental Health + Why We Don't Talk About It Often Enough, How to Brain-Build Correctly & How to Make It a Sustainable Daily Habit
In this podcast (episode #284) and blog, I talk about one of the most important yet overlooked and underutilized mental health tools: brain-building!
Brain building is easy, effective and something everyone can and should be doing every day. It is, I believe, one of the most powerful resilience-boosting mental health tools out there, and is completely underappreciated in the wellness space.
Don’t get me wrong…“fixing” toxic thoughts with their embedded emotions is huge. We all have to work on our big and small traumas! However, what we often don’t speak about is how we need strong, optimized brains and clear, intelligently functioning minds to do the work of “fixing”. Through brain-building we can learn how to do this, which is why it’s a huge part of the mind-management process.
The brain is in love with the mind and the mind is in love with the brain. As you think, you’re using your mind to change the microscopic structures of your brain. This is called neuroplasticity.
With every experience we have, real-time chemical and structural change occurs in the brain. Mind changes matter pretty much instantaneously. We have come to realize that the brain isn’t a fixed lump of matter just delivering genetically-preprogrammed instructions to the body. Rather, it’s an intensely responsive and intricately complex and dynamic system of cells. And we, using our mind, cause these changes!
Indeed, the brain is hungry for and needs these changes! The brain is always changing, and, as we all well know, when our minds are a mess (for whatever reason or because of what life throws at us), the changes that occur in the brain can get pretty messy pretty quickly.
However, there’s something we can all do to help the brain function well and build up its resilience against the challenges of life: brain-building! Essentially, when we brain build, we use our mind to build or “feed” our brain on a regular basis, just like we need eat every day to nourish our body. Brain-building is like eating a balanced, healthy diet! It’s the process of “feeding” the brain regularly with new and challenging information (the “healthy food”) that is then well “digested,” or deeply understood.
The actual process of brain-building is incredibly rapid. Genes are activated within a few minutes, and a single neuron can gain thousands of new dendritic branches in a very short time.
Brain building is so important that it’s one of the first things I would train my patients to do when I was in private practice. As I mentioned above, it’s a powerful tool; my early research showed up to 75 percent improvement in academic, cognitive, social, emotional, and intellectual function when people were taught how to build their brain and harness deep, intellectual thought. When you build your brain, you build your resilience and your intelligence. This changes the way that energy flows through the brain, optimizing its function and cognitive flexibility.
Brain-building also uses the thousands of new baby nerve cells that are born when we wake up each morning, called neurogenesis. If we don’t use these baby nerve cells and don’t brain-build, toxic waste can build up in the brain that may affect our mood and sleep, and can lower the resilience of the brain, increasing our vulnerability to mental and physical health issues.
I brain-build every day without fail, along with detoxing my thoughts. I even use brain-building to help calm and refocus my mind in the midst of a panic or anxiety attack or if I’m worried about something!
Perhaps brain-building doesn’t get enough attention because it’s not as “glamorous” as a pill or trendy workout or device. And, of course, brain-building takes time—the full results aren’t seen immediately. Yet, without a strong brain, it is very difficult to build or maintain sustainable improvements in our physical and mental health, just like an old, damaged car cannot go any faster or be any better, even if you put in the best quality fuel!
So, how does brain-building work? The information you are trying to build into your brain needs to be studied with the goal of understanding it deeply enough to be able to teach it to a class, have an intelligent discussion on the topic, or write an exam/paper/blog on the information (or, preferably, all of the above).
When we learn information in this way, not only can this increase our brainpower and intelligence, but it can also activate our cognitive resilience, which will equip us to manage our emotions and think more effectively and with more clarity when stressful situations occur. And, as a bonus during tough times, it buys us time to calm down when we are worked up, as I mentioned above.
Brain building is not distracting you from dealing with the hard stuff. Rather, it’s preparing you to be uncomfortable enough with growth so that you can and do change.
And there’s another great benefit to brain-building. Since it is a neuroplasticity-driven system that keeps the brain tidy and clean, it helps shift chaotic and messy mental energy to organized mental energy, just like vacuuming up dirt and cleaning our homes helps us get some level of order back.
When you brain-build, you introduce a level of control, which can help you feel hope again. This may be only a glimmer of hope at first, but it’s there! It’s like organizing your messy closet into boxes. The boxes are now neatly packed in your closet; they’re filled with stuff that still needs organizing, but at least they are not all over the floor! You have prioritized them and created some sort of order.
As a result, brain-building is also a great way to help reduce sleeping issues. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep or waking up in the middle of the night with a host of anxious thoughts, you may have too much “toxic buildup” in your brain from unused neurons or messy, chaotic energy from toxic thoughts. By building your brain, you can help “clean up the mind” and use new neurons in a healthy way throughout the day, so at night they don’t emerge with a vengeance.
Finally, there is one more reason why brain-building is amazing and so vital. It can help you get “unstuck” in any area of life, such as in a job, in a relationship, or with a project. How? It helps you develop an experimental mindset, which encourages you to explore, imagine, test, analyze, and pivot if something doesn’t work, and repeat the process if necessary. It is a great way for you to develop your curiosity and courage, as I discuss in my latest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.
So, when you are feeling stuck in life, try these following brain-building tips:
- Question how high your bar for originality is. Keep in mind there is nothing new, just new ways of saying things. As you read and learn more, you’ll realize there are common messages throughout; people just say them in different and unique ways.
- Practice using an experimental mindset, which means to explore, test, analyze results, pivot if it doesn’t work, and repeat.
- Be an infinite learner. Read fiction and non-fiction (fiction is especially great for boosting creativity and problem-solving abilities), listen to podcasts, engage in tough conversations, and travel.
- Be open to any and all opportunities. Be open to the ‘yes’. If something sounds remotely interesting, pursue it.
- Don’t fall into the trap of having to be great at something to try it. Embrace the opportunity to learn. Remember: every great athlete was not great in the beginning and had to learn.
- Be prepared to have those difficult conversations—you can learn so much from these. Get comfortable agreeing to disagree.
For more on brain-building and mental resilience, listen to my podcast (episode #284), and check out my latest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
This podcast was sponsored by:
BiOptimizer’s Cognibiotics, a natural supplement that is loaded with probiotic strains researchers have found to support upgraded mood, mental health, digestion and performance. Get up to 40% off your order and free shipping on select packages at cognibiotics.com/drleaf.
Huzzah, the most delicious, low sugar seltzers that are filled with probiotics for optimal gut and brain health! Get up to 20% off your order with the code DRLEAF at https://drinkhuzzah.com.
OSEA, a female-founded company that creates skin and body-care products powered by the sea. They make clean, safe skincare products that are responsibly sourced, vegan and cruelty-free. You can try OSEA risk-free for 30 days and get free shipping on orders over $50. They even send free samples with every order! Get 10% off your first order with my promo code LEAF at OSEAmalibu.com.
Ritual, a company that makes my favorite brain-supporting protein powder! A lot of protein powders can feel intimidating ('no pain, no gain'), and their formulas opaque (and not just because they're a powder!). This is why I love Ritual’s Essential Protein, made by their team of amazing scientists who have reimagined protein from the ground up and inside out, from how it's made to who it's for and why it's needed. The result is a delicious, plant-based protein—offered in three premium formulations for distinct life stages and unique nutrient needs—all made with the same high-standards approach and commitment to traceability that Ritual is known for. And, to make trying something new less scary, Ritual offers a money-back guarantee if you’re not 100% in love. Plus, my listeners get 10% off during your first 3 months. Just visit ritual.com/DRLEAF to add Essential Protein today. That’s ritual.com/DRLEAF.
2:38 Why brain building is one of the most powerful resilience-boosting mental healthcare tools we have
3:18 Why I brain-build every single day
4:10 The brain is in love with the mind and the mind is in love with the brain
6:00 How brain building helps us detox our mind and build healthy habits
6:30 How brain building strengthens the mind and brain
11:13 What is brain building?
13:50 How brain building can improve our mental and physical wellbeing
17:15, 20:40 The brain is constantly changing, and when we use our mind well we can make sure these changes benefit us
19:00 The brain is designed to learn and grow
19:30 My research on brain building, and why brain building is hopeful
20:45 What are memories?
23:00, 47:00 Using brain building as a healthy distraction or break
28:00 How to brain build
37:50 Brain building and neurogenesis
39:00 How brain building can improve sleep
46:10 How brain building can help you cope when life gets stressful
47:45 Brain building helps harness the power of neuroplasticity and clean the mind and brain
This podcast and blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.