The Healthy Mind Platter.

The Healthy Mind Platter was developed by David Rock along with Daniel J. Siegel , M.D., as a visual reminder of what a “healthy diet” for the brain would look like. It was a sort of response to the US Department of Agriculture’s “choose my plate” pictorial example of food groups as a tool to help optimize physical health. Rock & Siegel felt that we needed an equivalent recommendation for a healthy mind, as well, and they developed this plan as a response to that need. You can read more about the Healthy Mind Platter here.

I have this diagram printed out and pinned above my computer at work, so I’m almost constantly looking up at a reminder of these “seven daily essential mental activities.” What exactly does this look like in my life, however? Well, here are some of the things that I try to do every day to make sure I’m getting a well-balanced diet of the seven items on the Healthy Mind Platter.

Focus Time: When we closely focus on tasks on a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.

This is the area I spend most of my time in. Obviously, 40 hours of the week, at least, are spent on this endeavor by virtue of my corporate office job. However, I spend a lot of time outside of work on Focus Time, as well — specifically when I’m writing or composing blog entries. I would estimate that probably 35% of my time is spent in this zone.

Play Time: When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we make new connections in the brain.

You would think for someone as creative as me, this ingredient would come easily — but that’s far from the case. There are many days I don’t engage in Play Time at all! As much as I love writing, it’s much more a Focus Time activity for me, and I don’t generally engage in other forms of creative expression. And as much as I wish I could do something completely new every day, I have yet to figure out how to include that in my schedule. I do manage to do something new & fun about once a week — whether it’s visiting wineries, exploring a different Greenway, or taking an alternative route somewhere. It probably averages out to 4% of my time, if I’m being generous. Definitely an opportunity for playful growth & development!

Connecting Time: When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry.

I think I get a pretty healthy dose of connecting time with people. Obviously, I connect with my daughter in the mornings when I wake her up, in the afternoons when I pick her up from school, over mealtimes, and any other activities we may have planned for the day. I connect with my husband on a daily basis, too; he’s especially good at helping me understand what “connecting” really means, where we talk and touch and spend time together without a specified activity or set goal. We generally do something with our friends at least once a week, either together or separately, and I also spend a lot of time connecting with people I love over Twitter. I probably spend an average of 20-25% of my time here.

Physical Time: When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.

I try to get an hour of exercise in as part of my daily routine each day, even if it’s just taking walks on my breaks and at lunch. Obviously, there are days I only get 30 minutes, and other days when I don’t get any at all. There’s always room for improvement, and I’d like to spend more time doing more mindful physical activities such as yoga. In general, about 4% of my time is delegated here.

Time In: When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.

I’ve become really good at getting my “Time In” each morning with the routines I outlined in this post. On average, I spend about 3% of my time here.

Down Time: When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.

When my body and mind are stressed and overwhelmed from the demands of my Focus Time, they both usually shut down and demand this “down time” if I don’t happen to schedule it in. I used to spend a couple of hours on this each night, but I’ve whittled it down to about 1 – 1.5 hours each evening before bed. Essentially, I’ve replaced my down time with sleep, which I desperately needed. I just hate that it means I miss out on some of my Connecting Time with my husband, as well. I’ll say 5% of my time is probably spent here.

Sleep Time: When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.

This has been one of the areas I’ve been working on most recently. For months, I was getting an average of 4 hours of sleep a night or less — and it was beginning to take its toll on my body, my mind, and my mood. I’ve made it a goal to sleep more, now, and I’m doing better — my average time per night over the last 30 days is 6 hrs 1 min, which is definitely an improvement. I’ve been using the Sleep Cycle app on my iPhone to keep track of my sleep, and it works pretty well, though I think it also keeps track of whenever my husband wakes up, too. So, I’m currently spending 25% of my time asleep.

It’s important to note that many activities actually deliver several different ingredients of the Healthy Mind Platter at once. For example, my walking breaks are obviously Physical Time, but they also allow me to spend a little Connecting Time with nature, and when I explore a different Greenway, there’s a bit of Play Time happening, as well. In addition, my Down Time activities are often also Connecting Time activities with my husband (cuddled up watching television together on the couch). I would imagine it’s probably good to integrate different parts of the brain with different activities, too.

Trying to balance out all of these areas is a challenge, but I can definitely feel the difference when I allow myself healthy doses of each activity each day. It has definitely been a helpful tool on my journey towards a more balanced life.