Neurology Lucid Harvard

Harvard’s 3 Neuro Tips for a Healthier Life

Stress, failed goals and bad habits; three things that strike anxiety in people. These caveats of life often find their way into our own lives through poor self-control and misunderstanding of what’s going on inside our own heads.

So how do you minimise stress, achieve your goals and form good habits? According to Dr. Srini Pillay at Harvard Medical School, the secret lies in neuroscience and your ability to master what goes on inside your head.

In case you couldn’t tell, we at Lucid are passionate about body betterment, neuro-enhancement, productivity & focus. To be kept up to date on any other blogs or infographics, add yourself to our community mailing list.

Why Your Neurology Matters

Harvard’s research into the science of human behaviours is intriguing. For example, many would agree that exercise and sport is good for your heart and mind, however a study found that up to 75% of people did not exercise at all. What about what fuel we put into our bodies? Well, we all know that our diet and food choices are an integral part of our well being, yet more than a third of all adults are obese.

So why the distinct difference between humans knowing and humans doing? Dr. Pillay says it all comes down to combating stress, goal achievement and forming good habits.

Neurology Lucid Harvard Medical School

Dr. Srini Pillay of the Harvard Medical School has some bright advice.

Neuro Tip 1: Alleviate Stress

When your body and mind are under stress, your brain tends to be reflexive rather than reflective. When you are in a reflexive state, there is a lesser chance that you’ll make well thought out decisions and choices. For example, stress causes people to relapse into old habits which are the established ‘default pathways’ in our brains, such as smoking.

Another ‘default pathway’ is to reach for an less-than-healthy beverage with high amounts of sugar. It’s well documented that excessive sugar consumption is a risk factor for obesity, yet sugar also decreases the stress hormone cortisol, which is why people may get hooked on it.

In short; stress prompts habit behavior in humans. To alleviate stress first and foremost is advisable when you’re looking to make lasting changes in your life.

  • Our brains can change throughout life, this means that decreasing stress could ultimately help your brain become less vulnerable to poor reflexive choices.
  • We tend to focus on ourselves when stressed, however a recent study showed that helping others in times of stress may significantly decrease the effect of stress on your body. This may be due to the protective anti-stress effects of the hormone Oxytocin.
  • People who find meaning in their stressful moments and adversities, and focus on the benefits of their hard times, deal more effectively with stress.

Rewiring your “default pathways” won’t occur overnight, nor will you curb your reflexive sugar, nicotine or alcohol habits in one fell swoop. However, with mindful attention turned inwards during times of stress, you may set yourself on a longer, healthier life.

Neuro Tip 2: Achieve Meaningful Goals

Goal setting; one of the most overplanned and underachieved activities we do. The premise is simple; we set goals to help us crystal ball what our future will be. Goals allow us to filter out the noise, think clearly and stay motivated. So how come it doesn’t work for so many people?

A recent U.S. study may have provided an explanation for why we fall short of so many goals. It goes something like this; beyond your conscious (planned) goals, there are many unconscious goals which are also competing for your attention and energy. This means your own brain is working against you, trying to prioritise these ‘unwritten’ goals which lay beneath your conscious thoughts.

Goal Setting Lucid Harvard

Knowing the true meaning of your goal can help you achieve them.

For example, ‘weight loss’ may be your conscious goal, but your unconscious goal may be to avoid the anxiety of feeling overweight. When your unconscious goal takes priority, you may choose to cover up, rather than work out, to appease this unwritten goal.

  • It’s every goal for itself in the human brain, they’re selfish and vying for your focus and energy.  So it may help to attach a ‘priority tag’ to the goals that are most important to you, write them down and rehearse why you’re doing it each day.
  • Always seek to ask yourself why your goal matters to you. Goals often have a simpler, underlying reason such as to look good, live longer, live a happier life, avoid illnesses and more. Identify and be clear with yourself, this will help your unconscious mind prioritise the goal.
  • To encourage a faster, positive change in your overall health, prioritise your health-oriented goals above all else. When thinking of them in this way, there’s a higher chance you’ll succeed.

Neuro Tip 3: Form Positive Habits

Our brains have efficient ways of processing events and tasks. One of these is to allocate our intentions into two types; ‘goals’ and ‘implementation’.

Goal intentions are broad and nonspecific, such as saying to yourself “I’m going to the gym today.” Whereas implementation intentions are specific, such as “I’m going to do a 20 minute run on the treadmill and 100 push ups.”

What’s interesting is that studies show that breaking goals down into more implementation intentions can go a long way to helping you form good habits. This is because when you spell things out for your brain in finer details and lists, it can access that goal and motivate you more readily than when you are vague and non-specific.

In case you couldn’t tell, we at Lucid are passionate about body betterment, neuro-enhancement, productivity & focus. To be kept up to date on any other blogs or infographics, add yourself to our community mailing list.
Hendrik Kruizinga

Hendrik is the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Lucid. He avidly pursues great design, experiential products and the a daily dose of betterment.