Does your brain ever wander, you get distracted and find it hard to concentrate on the work in front of you? We’d all like to perform better but what can you do to improve your brain function to allow this?
Neurologist and neuro immunologist Dr. Mary Rensel explains the importance of brain health, how it affects every aspect of your life and some of the ways you can optimise your brain and performance.
She talks about the different lifestyle changes that affect brain performance, the practice and value of emotional processing and the first steps to improving your brain health.
Dr. Mary Rensel of Brain Ops Group
Website: BrainOps Group
Mary Rensel, MD is co-owner of Brain Ops Group and owner of Brain Fresh, and is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neuroimmunologist and Director of Wellness. She graduated from the Medical College of Ohio and completed her Neurology and Neuro-immunology fellowship training at the Cleveland Clinic. She is boarded in Neurology and Integrative Medicine and is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.
Dr. Rensel’s work has focused on multiple sclerosis, brain health and integrative medicine. Her work in academic medicine often intersects with wellness, advocacy, innovation and strategic initiatives.
Dr. Rensel has been a “Best Doctor” of Cleveland since 2010 per the Cleveland Magazine. She is active as a coach, mentor, scientific reviewer, clinical researcher and activity director and speaks nationally. She has also appeared on numerous media outlets, including a spot on Good Morning America.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- [4:03] What optimising your brain means.
- [5:29] How optimising your brain improves productivity and other areas of your life.
- [6:24] The changes you can expect from taking steps to optimise your brain.
- [7:34] What “resiliency” means and why it’s so important.
- [9:48] The confidence healthy lifestyle actions give you.
- [11:16] Different healthy lifestyle actions that help look after your brain.
- [13:58] Diets that help maintain brain function.
- [15:53] How sleep deprivation affects the brain.
- [17:06] How movement affects blood flow to the brain.
- [18:25] How the people around you contribute to your brain activity and life expectancy.
- [22:25] The effect social connections have on your brain.
- [24:51] How big your social network should be.
- [26:41] What emotional processing is and how to practise emotional awareness.
- [31:01] Why your brain is more sensitive when you first wake up.
- [32:35] How to get yourself out of a mid-afternoon slump.
- [34:49] How employers can help support their employee’s mental well-being.
- [36:18] The first steps to improving your brain health.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a small commission in the event that you make a purchase. This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.
Episode 145: How to optimise your brain and improve your performance - with Dr. Mary Rensel of Brain Ops Group
Jeremy Cline 0:00
How do you look after your brain? Your brain controls everything. All the functions which you take for granted, they're controlled by your brain, let alone all the stuff that you consciously do, like working and making decisions and having conversations with people and everything else that is in your awareness. So, what are the things that you can do to look after your brain and to optimise your brain's performance? That's what we're going to talk about in this week's episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.
Jeremy Cline 0:45
Hello, and welcome to Change Work Life, the show that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. If you want to know how you can enjoy a more satisfying and fulfilling working life, then you're in the right place. We'd all like to perform better at work. But sometimes, even when you're doing something you're good at, it can be a struggle. Maybe your mind wanders, and you can't concentrate, or it just seems to be taking you longer to do something than normal. So, is there anything you can do to help yourself in this situation? Are there ways you can improve your brain function to help you perform better? That's what we're discussing this week, and I'm delighted to introduce Dr Mary Rensel. Mary is one of the founders of Brain Ops Group, through which she runs programmes and workshops to help improve brain performance and to build and restore brain resilience. Mary, welcome to the show.
Dr Mary Rensel 1:37
Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.
Jeremy Cline 1:40
Why don't you start by taking a minute to introduce yourself and telling us what you're about?
Dr Mary Rensel 1:45
Okay. Well, I'm Dr Mary Rensel, I'm a neuroimmunologist, so a brain doc who looks and treats diseases that affect the immune system. And after doing that, for nearly 30 years, I noticed we know a lot of the information for folks who are working hard day to day, we just didn't have the ABCs what the brain may need to help us focus and be productive and have clarity of how to keep work meaningful and exciting for us. So, I wanted to dig into it, and I partnered with a life coach, Ali Hively, and we've created some very simple, instructive programmes to help folks, just again, the ABCs of how to manipulate or work with or shield your brain from a lot of the risks of burnout, et cetera.
Jeremy Cline 2:32
Is medicine still part of your work, or have you drop that entirely in favour of this?
Dr Mary Rensel 2:37
Yes, yes. So, I'm still working in medicine, yeah. But I think there's daily things that we can do to optimise our brain and just learn a little bit about what's sitting between our ears, to help us support our days be productive and actually fulfilling.
Jeremy Cline 2:55
And how did you and Ali come to meet and decide that you're going to go into business together?
Dr Mary Rensel 3:00
Yeah. So, we met because I was giving a talk at a women's leadership conference, and she was in the audience, and she introduced herself afterwards. And I wasn't sure who was going to be at that talk, and I was talking about long-term brain health for professional women. And she came up afterwards, and we were chatting, and I said, I love looking at the science and jumping into the research, but I need someone to help support change in humans. Because as humans, we're super hard to adjust or change or to put new ideas into our daily lives. So, then, we chatted, and we put a group, we call it our Ocean 11 group together, we put a team together, and we met regularly with other professional women, try to share resources. From that, we came to know each other, and we started Brain Ops Group.
Jeremy Cline 3:50
You talk on your website, and we've spoken, about optimising your brain. What does that mean? And what does it enable you to do that you weren't able to do before?
Dr Mary Rensel 4:01
Well, again, I think just going back to some of the basics, it doesn't have to be super complicated, but I think number one, we have to acknowledge that the brain is an organ, and it needs daily support. So, we came up with a system that, we're from Cleveland, Ohio, and around Cleveland, our town, we have a lot of CLE for Cleveland, our little reminder of how to do this easily in a busy life is CLE. So, number one with the brains, what we really need and want and desire in a busy workday or even at home, in our communities, our connections. Obviously, so the CLE is Connections, our Lifestyle actions and our Emotional processing. If we had to think of three buckets of where to put our energy into, we recommend that you put your energy and attention toward connections, your lifestyle actions, emotional processing, because surprisingly, all of those activities that you do in those three buckets, those three areas, can actually enhance your work performance. So, as a brain doc, I just didn't see enough literature or educational material supporting that our brain does need some attention, and that there are daily actions we can take to help our focus, our productivity, and even, like I said, our happiness or fulfilment at work. So, we'd like to break it down into simple areas of where to be active.
Jeremy Cline 5:27
And what's the end result?
Dr Mary Rensel 5:29
Well, it's nice when one has clarity of where to put your time and energy. Also, it's a great feeling to know that you're putting your attention, or your activity toward things that really matter. Obviously, our brain makes us who we are, it helps us remember special times in our lives, it helps us plan for the future, it helps us support those that we love. So, if we know what it needs, and we know how to get the most out of it, then we can have those days with good focus and good productivity, so that we can get home to our loved ones or those that we care about or be active in our community, so that work isn't taking over our whole 24 hours.
Jeremy Cline 6:11
So, what changes might someone notice if they apply this framework? And I promise that we will look at those elements in a bit more detail, but I'm just looking the end result working backwards.
Dr Mary Rensel 6:22
Right, right. So, it feels peaceful, I would say like a peace of mind on your weekly plan. Okay, so I need to put into my calendar times to connect with people. And this is outside of work. Inside of work also matters very much, but it really helps to have good, high levels of resiliency, meaning that we can adapt to change, if we have this structure in place, the CLE. So, number one is scheduling time and being very intentional about connecting with others, and also leaving time in your schedule for your healthy lifestyle actions. And then, also learning a little bit of something about emotional processing. We don't have to be experts on it, and we don't have to be psychologists, but we can know a little bit of something, because it will influence our ability to focus, to be productive at work, and even our perceptions, what we see day to day will be influenced by our emotional state.
Jeremy Cline 7:22
And do you ever know that you have corrected, that you've got to where you want to be, that everything is in balance and harmony? Or is this a continual process?
Dr Mary Rensel 7:34
Well, I think something like resiliency is the ability to adapt to life's continual changes. So, I'd say the only certainty in life is that we're going to continue to change, and we will have to adapt. We don't have the same day, day after day. So, building resiliency, which is a toolkit to be able to approach life and all the challenges or changes that we'll see with life, once you know the go-to actions, it feels good to know where to go when life throws you a curveball, as it will, even on the, if you want to say, mundane or common days, it's nice to know that you are doing what's important to maintain that important organ between your ears, and it's important also because it feels good that you know you're not wasting your time and energy on something that won't have long-term value.
Jeremy Cline 8:26
You've mentioned resiliency a couple of times there? Can you just expand on what that means?
Dr Mary Rensel 8:32
Yeah. So, resiliency is defined as the ability to be adaptable to changes, if you want to think about going under or over or around the challenges that life may put in front of us. That is a life skill. If we have high resiliency, people have high life satisfaction, they feel that their quality of life is higher, and their work productivity follows that, they have high work productivity, because they feel empowered. They know what to do when life throws them a new challenge, which it will, right? I mean, if you live long enough, you have certain challenges that are put in front of you, and you have to find a way to work around or over or under them, in the workforce or even in your home life. And then, there's ways the brain is supported, the brain is better able to handle those challenging times when we have to jump over, around a new struggle or a new challenge at work or even at home.
Jeremy Cline 9:31
And is it a case of getting to a place where you know what to do? Or is it more about being comfortable that something has come your way, which you might not know how to deal with yet, but you're kind of comfortable that you will figure it out?
Dr Mary Rensel 9:49
Yeah, I think it's both things. I think it's a confidence that you know you have this toolkit that you know that, if you have a strong social connection, because you've worked on that, and you have healthy lifestyle actions, because you've worked on that, and then you also know how to process emotions, because you know how to put those in place, even in a busy day, that, yeah, you have that peace of mind that you know exactly what tools to keep in place, if you've already been doing this. If this is new for you, one thing to acknowledge is that the brain is a busy organ, it's working 24/7 on managing our whole body, and so, if you ask the brain, even listening to this podcast or thinking about taking on a new action, you have to remember that you need to give your body, your brain support when you're learning something new, because it's already busy. I think of it like a busy parent. If you ask the parent for a ride, a ride to the store, the parents say, 'Hey, I still have to cook dinner, I'm already doing things.' The brain is something similar, it's already busy, so if you're asking it to learn something new, you have to give it more of these healthy lifestyle actions, so that you can support it in change. Because it's an organ that can only handle so many things, so you can't keep asking things of it, without supporting it through these lifestyle actions.
Jeremy Cline 11:11
I would love to take your framework slightly out of the order. So, you mentioned lifestyle actions, I'd like to focus on that one first, as being the one which kind of seems to me the one that's most obvious when it comes to looking after your brain. So, I mean, I'm sure you'll go into more detail with things like eating properly, sleeping properly, that kind of thing, I mean, is that essentially what we're talking about when you talk about lifestyle actions?
Dr Mary Rensel 11:40
Absolutely. And also, that the brain as an organ actually has a lot of fat in it, and the content of the brain is filled with healthy fats. So, when we look at our nutrition, we indeed have to make sure we have a nice range of nutrition for the brain. The other thing to remember is, again, it's busy 24/7, even when we're sleeping, our brain is working hard. So, we have to look at the nutritional balance we give the brain throughout the day. The thing to know is that sometimes our emotional state, or we might call it our mood, say I don't feel good, I feel tired, or I feel upset, sometimes that's related to our nutritional state, because the brain is exhausted from all the work it had to do, and we need to give it long term good proteins and healthy fats to help us throughout the whole day. So, sometimes we have that rumbling in our stomach, because our brain is telling us, 'Hey, I need some more fuel for this day, this is a big day, you've asked a lot of me today', you need to give it even extra fuel. So, we have to kind of link those two things. The rumbling stomach or the fast heart rate, sometimes that's because the brain is trying to turn on the metabolism, because it's learning new things. So, when we think of nutrition, we need to make sure we're eating long lasting and pacing through the day, especially if we have a busy day, which sometimes, as professionals, we do the opposite. We have a lot of meetings, we put a lot in our day, and we eat or sleep less, because we have a big project coming up, when actually we should be doing more.
Jeremy Cline 13:17
There's probably, I don't know, more material than any one person can possibly go through on things just like diet. So, where can people start on this, in terms of what is a right mix of fuel for the brain? I mean, there's lots of perceived wisdoms around diet, so whether you have like a third of carbs, a third of proteins and a third of vegetables in the body, whatever it might be, in your experience, your research, your work as a brain doctor, what typically tends to work for people to retain brain function and keep it going and keeping it ticking over?
Dr Mary Rensel 13:58
It's so hard to, like you said, there's so many individualised plans, and people may have medical conditions where they have to eat a particular way, or they're on certain medicines, and they have to eat a particular way. So, it's so hard to say this is the one plan. But I think, if you try to eat out of less boxes and bags, and you eat the whole food, and you make sure you have a good mix of protein at each meal, and the healthy fats, which you can get a lot in fish, so again, the recommendation from the American Academy of Neurology and some of the large institutions that look at long-term brain health, Alzheimer's Association, those kinds of big associations that looked into this, it seems like following a Mediterranean diet is the best plan for the majority of us. But definitely, people have to talk with their own physician about their family risk factors and their medical risks. But the Mediterranean diet, healthy, colourful foods, that you could think of a beautiful little village in Greece or Spain and what would you get if you lived somewhere there, you wouldn't be hitting, I don't know, in the US we have Costco, we have these big box stores, where you get big boxes and bags of crackers and chips and things, that's probably what you wouldn't get if you were living in a beautiful little village in Spain or Greece or somewhere. So, beautiful, colourful foods. Sometimes we say, try to eat four colours a day, if you don't know where to start, but of real foods, so if you get your berries and your strawberries and beets or greens, you know, try to mix up the colours, so that you make sure you have a good mix of vitamins throughout the day. But yeah, I would work with your healthcare provider and come up with a plan for yourself particularly, specific for your needs.
Jeremy Cline 15:45
I presume that sleep also figures in the lifestyle books. So, what can you say about that?
Dr Mary Rensel 15:52
Yes, it sure does. Well, I think the one thing to think is that some of us have a self-imposed sleep deprivation. So, some of our own activities, we keep ourselves from sleeping all that we need. And that can lead to poor decision making, poor what we would call executive function. So, those are like, how can we take data and come up with the big ideas and in our work projects, et cetera. It might also affect our recall when we're trying to work on those big projects, or even our attention to details. So, sleep is very important for work productivity and focus. So, we have to be careful what we're doing to ourselves. So, if we're watching Netflix, and we keep going another and another and another, and suddenly, it's one in the morning, we have to get up for an early meeting, that is self-imposed sleep deprivation, and that will affect our attention, our big ideas, our ability to focus, our ability to take in information and come up with good ideas at work, in the workplace. So, we have to be careful with what we're doing to ourselves and our ability to sleep as we need.
Jeremy Cline 16:35
And presumably, the third leg of the stool is exercise. Would that be right?
Dr Mary Rensel 17:05
Right. Some kind of movements. And even when you're working on a big project, the brain is, as we said, in the skull, it's very dependent on movement for good blood flow, and to bring nutrients up to the brain. So, it's good to move every 30 minutes. Some studies have suggested, just sitting still for 30 minutes, you'll have less blood flow up to the brain. So, just a little march or a stretch or something, as people are on meetings for hours and hours, it's good to move every 30 minutes to make sure that the brain is getting flushed and bring some new nutrients.
Jeremy Cline 17:40
So, I'm conscious that we've only looked at one aspect of the framework. But I mean, everything that you've said, I think people intrinsically know. People know that having a decent diet, getting plenty of sleep, having a reasonable amount of exercise, it's all good stuff. And yet, people still find it so difficult, whether it's perceived incompatibility with lifestyle, sleeping and young children don't always go well together, convenience food and being busy at work tend to go together, lack of exercise and both of those could go together. So, yeah, help these people out.
Dr Mary Rensel 18:25
Well, I think a quote-unquote lazy way to get maybe some more positive brain activity in is to hang out with people that do this, that you see. They follow a healthy diet, they move or exercise regularly, they seem to prioritise their wellbeing. Because as humans, we model each other, and so, we tend to also feel their emotional state. So, if they are more of a positive person, that they said, 'Yes, we're busy. Yes, we have little kids. Yes, exercise might look different today than it did when we didn't have any young children or work wasn't so busy. But still, I'm going to go ahead and do that one or two things I know will be important for me today.' If you hang out with people that actually live like that, we will take on a lot of the actions that they will model for us, and we will also start to feel their emotional state. So, that's a quote-unquote lazy way of doing it, or in a very intentional strategic way of doing it. So, you might want to just sit back and take a little assessment, after the podcast, people can think about the last 5 to 10 people that they have spent time with in the last week, and did they see them doing any of these kinds of behaviours, and if not, they want to be intentionally kind of fill in the blank, where do I see anyone who eats or makes a priority of eating healthy, where do I see anyone making a priority of caring for themselves or stopping a meeting and saying, 'This meeting has gone really long, I'd like us all to take a break, go take a bio break, get some nutrients, stretch.' If people are modelling this, those are the people that I hang out with, and that's a great way to start, to just try one new activity. Again, as humans, we're hard to change, but we have to acknowledge that we can change, it just will take us a little time. So, we have to make it easy, we have to hang out with people already doing it, and we have to reward ourselves. So, if you do something good, make sure you give yourself a reward for doing it. Because otherwise, it doesn't catch our attention too much if we let it slide by.
Jeremy Cline 20:32
There's that expression, you are the sum of the five people you spend most of your time with, or something like that. And also, something I've found with approaching things in a group way is just that extra accountability. So, if you've made an arrangement to do some exercise with someone, or you're committed to a group exercise programme, or something like that, personally, I've found that that has helped me stick to something which I wouldn't necessarily stick to, if I was just doing it by myself.
Dr Mary Rensel 21:06
Absolutely. Right. And the literature is very strong in this area, to take some time and build those connections, whether it be for accountability, or just to model some of these healthy behaviours. I mean, in the health literature, people live longer when you have these social connections, especially somebody who volunteers in the community, because then you also have an empathy, you feel you're doing something to help your community, and you're connecting with others. So, this literature, it seems, like you said, like people know we should do it, but putting it into place is literally lifesaving, and that's what the literature suggests. People live longer when they have these connections, and it's actually fun, right? You actually can have a good time. So, a lot of the brain health measures are fun. You get to connect, go out and have fun, eat beautiful, colourful food.
Jeremy Cline 22:00
So, what is it that connections does for your brain? Because I can see how fuel, sleep and exercise, that's the physical stuff, so you can see how you metabolise all that, and it will affect your brain, just as it will affect all parts of your body. But when it comes to social connections, what's the effect on the brain there?
Dr Mary Rensel 22:24
Yeah, it's almost like a shield for wellness or wellbeing to have that network. Again, if you want to think, you're suddenly going through a challenge in your family or in your community, and you have a network of social support around you, built in already, if you've already put some time toward this, if something happens, you probably have someone you can ask a question of. I see this, if I am diagnosing someone, let's say I diagnose someone with multiple sclerosis, the literature suggests, if they have a strong network, they will be healthier, because they have people they can go and ask questions of, and maybe somebody knows somebody, so it's literally our survival, as we know, that humans live in groups, and we need to feel safe in our group. So, we need to have that strong connection where we share those basic values of whatever may be important to you. Hopefully, whatever is important to me, I have a network of folks who have similar values, and so those people I feel very safe with, and they are my support system, day-to-day, for fun and for connections, but also, if there's a new challenge in my life, then I have that built-in network. And the other thing to acknowledge is that people are moving, a lot of times we're very mobile these days, and to be very intentional when you're new in a town to build that pretty quickly. I see a lot of medical residents, so our residents kind of move to town, sometimes from other countries, and they're new, they don't have any connection beyond maybe the residents they're working with. And they stay very closely knit, because they're their safe group, they understand what they're going through, and they find resources for them. So, it's literally lifesaving, and definitely something to be intentional about in your weekly schedule to build your network.
Jeremy Cline 24:20
How much is enough when it comes to a network? So, taking your example of someone who moves to a new town, and there's lots of stuff that you need to do, you might have to get kids in school and all that kind of thing, you still got the job, you're trying to maintain the healthy lifestyle that we've just been talking about, so how many people do you need to surround yourself with, and what should the quality of those relationships be?
Dr Mary Rensel 24:49
That is such a great question, because the literature actually suggests that you could be spread out too thin, that there is a level that you could have too many connections, but they're not very strong connections. Again, this question will go to kind of the style of the person, whether they're a strong introvert, they probably have a smaller network, if they're more extroverted, they will have a larger network. But yes, that is a fair question. There is a too much, where you don't know people well, you just kind of know them. But that matters for certain things, like finding new jobs, et cetera, but your wellbeing, you want to have a tight-knit circle, people that really know you.
Jeremy Cline 25:28
So, how much is too little? Or what number is above too little?
Dr Mary Rensel 25:33
Yeah, it's a fair question, Jeremy, but you know, I think that it depends on the person's style. Everyone has a style, and strong introverts could have one to two to three really good friends, and that's all they need, or even two really good friends, strong introverts may have. If you're more extroverted, you will probably have a tighter circle of people who know you well. So, there's different networks, right? So, those are your friends that really know you, and you would be able to share very personal things with them. And then, other things, like we talked about, people that eat healthy and move. And so, the network development is almost like a web, right? So, we have our people very close to us, and then, we want to be intentional about connecting with especially positive people, who have positive health-related or wellbeing behaviours.
Jeremy Cline 26:21
Would you include your life partner in that network potentially?
Dr Mary Rensel 26:24
Absolutely. I would. Yes. He's not listening. But I would, yeah. He's not listening. Yeah. But he will be listening. Hopefully. Yeah.
Jeremy Cline 26:33
Let's move on to the third aspect, emotional processing. I think you going to have to start from the beginning with introducing what that's about.
Dr Mary Rensel 26:41
Well, I think a lot of folks, me included, would think that's kind of like a closet you open. Everybody, well, I have a closet in my house I don't want to open, it's filled with so many things, and I know it'll take a lot of time to deal with that closet. And sometimes I feel like emotions are like that. But especially during COVID, I learned the practice of emotional awareness. So, it's been suggested to list three emotions three times a day, and just to see, it's just awareness, so not so threatening, you just list three emotions that you're feeling three times a day. And it's nice, because it helped me to understand, oh, I'm way more positive in the morning, I'm rested, I'm well fed, especially after breakfast, I can make it through the day. But as the day goes on, around dinner, or late afternoon, my emotions are more negative. So, that's what I'm referring to, when I talked about earlier, sometimes our neuro metabolism balance, we may link it to moods. Like I would say I'm feeling upset or short tempered later in the afternoon, but really, I was tired, and I needed a snack, a healthy snack. So, we know that as parents, right? A lot of times the kids are crabby, they're tired and hungry. So, we link those two, but sometimes as working adults, we don't always link those two things. So, number one, I would start with awareness, write down three emotions three times a day, and just see what your daily pattern is. And then, you can kind of prime it. So, if you say, okay, my emotions are low in the afternoon, and then, we always have that meeting at this time, if you have any way to adjust scheduling your day around your positive emotional state, that would probably increase your productivity. If you don't, you have to prime yourself. Before that meeting, you have to think of something you're grateful for, take a few deep breaths or try to adjust your emotional state, when you know that time of day is more your negative emotional state. And so, we can adjust it a bit, but a lot of times, it's going to take some neuro metabolism adjustments, and/or recall and using some of the emotional adjustments we can do with pictures of people we love, a lot of people have that in the office, pictures of a happy memory, or someone you might praise, that's another trick to get into more positive emotional state, thinking of someone you could praise that day on your team, because it'll make you think of positive things and try to jolt you out of a negative state.
Jeremy Cline 29:16
Okay, so there's kind of like a three times daily check in, if you like. So, presumably, you wrote down the top three emotions you're feeling at that point, whether positive or negative.
Dr Mary Rensel 29:35
Strictly for awareness, so it's no judgments, and you don't have to change them. It's just so you can learn your emotional patterns. I needed to do it for about two weeks, so it was very clear to me what my emotional patterns were. And I know, why does it matter for a workday, because emotional patterns will change my perception, my executive functions, mu interactions. So, it matters what my emotional state is and how I enter a meeting. We've all seen someone come into a meeting in a negative emotional state and change the whole room. So, we share a synchrony, so we want to bring our best emotional self into a meeting. It's not that we are going to have a range of emotions, we can, number one, be aware of what they are, number two, we can adjust them a little bit if we need to. And then, if somebody is always in a negative state, then that's where you get professional help. If you seem like you're assessing yourself, and it's mostly negative, then get a professional, absolutely, because there are therapeutic ways to help that.
Jeremy Cline 30:42
Are there good times to do this to get a true picture? So, for example, I can predict that, if I was to write down my three emotions immediately before eating breakfast, they would probably be quite different from as soon as I have had breakfast, because I tend to have a much better outlook on the world once I've eaten.
Dr Mary Rensel 31:01
Yeah, and the brain is in a more of a sensitive state when you wake up, because it's a low glucose time. So, that's a lot of times where the experts recommend we don't go on social media right away when we wake up, because it's a vulnerable time because we're low glucose. So, that's not the best time. And you could do it, because if you know that, it's just awareness, so if you did it before you ate breakfast, you would say, 'Okay, I see, I'm more going to be negative before I eat breakfast.' So, then, that would not be the time that maybe you'd have a big discussion with somebody or you wouldn't plan your whole day right then. So, then, this awareness can then help you prime your day.
Jeremy Cline 31:40
Are there any emergency fixes which you can introduce when you feel like you need them? So, mid-afternoon slump is pretty common. I definitely don't have it every day, or not to the same degree of magnitude. But there are certainly some times where I will feel it, and I just want to have a nap. And if I'm in a situation where I can, I do have an app, and it works wonders. But sadly, that's something that doesn't tend to be looked on particularly well in the office, at least as far as I can tell. So, yeah, and it might happen immediately after lunch, or maybe it's not till three o'clock in the afternoon, but if you can feel that you are slumping, are there the red buttons you can push to help yourself get out of that?
Dr Mary Rensel 32:34
Yeah, I mean, if you if you have to stay in the workforce, and you're at that state, I mean, one other thing to know is that awareness, that you realise, yes, this is a hard time, so that you could prime yourself, and you look and see what you've given yourself metabolically at lunch, did you give yourself a protein or something that would help last hours, rather than quick carbohydrate, that'll just go right to sugar, which will then make us tired in a few hours. So, that's good to look kind of ahead of time, couple hours before what happened. And then also, remember the brain is that busy parent, it's already doing a lot of things, so if you've had a big day where you had a lot of heavy meetings, you might need to give it more and shield it, like we're talking about, with this CLE pattern. But yeah, some quick things are deep breaths, because the more oxygen that's coming into the brain, it tells the brain that we're safe. So, that generally puts us in a bigger idea, that's our higher thinking level. So, three very deep breaths, that can help. Furry pets help, cats and dogs, they put us in more of a positive state. And then, recalling something positive is a quick fix, right before you go into a meeting. And then, also thinking of someone you could praise that day, like who did something really great, if you're a parent or at work, on your team, just thinking in the positive sense and looking for someone you could tell they did a great job or good job, that will change your brain setting. Whatever we focus on gets bigger, they say, right? So, if we're focusing on positive things, that will get bigger in our lens, right? So, those are quick fixes.
Jeremy Cline 34:12
Okay, so if I'm in that state, I could try and recollect something that my daughter did that made me proud of her, and that might help me get out of the slump.
Dr Mary Rensel 34:23
Absolutely. A teacher that really helped, a mentor. Yes, absolutely. It's a quick fix. A deep breath really works, because it changes the chemicals in the brain so much, tells us that we're safe. And that really helps us to turn on our prefrontal cortex, which is the front part of the brain, that helps us to come up with big ideas.
Jeremy Cline 34:43
I'm always looking at ways that employers can help support their employees. And one thing that I've often thought is, is naptime necessarily a bad thing? It doesn't have to be very long, I find myself, I mean, literally, 10 minutes of lying down can make the world of difference. Would a far-sighted, modern employer embrace that that kind of thing is helpful and make allowance or even encourage it?
Dr Mary Rensel 35:16
Well, it'd be interesting for the listeners to tell us, how many places do have nap rooms. I mean, there are employers with nap rooms. And that goes way back. I mean, one of my brothers worked for a company in Seattle, geez, 30 years ago, that had nap rooms. There are employers who embrace this, and actually, they let them have a lot of freedom, the employees, and they actually said they worked harder, and they left it up to the employees. But there's some interesting studies that show, yeah, if we treat ourselves, again, neuro biologically, we have this organ that can't just, it is going 24/7, but there are some things we need to know about it and to take care of it and support it. So, if it needs the rest, all the better.
Jeremy Cline 35:59
I'm aware that we've talked about quite a lot in your framework, and that it can seem a little bit overwhelming when you've got all the things that you can work on. So, what's the good first step, do this thing first, that someone listening can take?
Dr Mary Rensel 36:19
I would say, if you're setting your schedule on Sunday, and you think of CLE, so connections, just look at what you have planned for yourself during the week, is there somebody that you really enjoy connecting with, or a new connection that you can make, and then, under lifestyle, maybe assess, maybe you're doing it great, maybe you do, you sleep well, you're eating well, you're moving regularly, then congratulate yourself, reward yourself for that, and then, the emotional processing, just list a couple of emotions three times a day for one week. It's just awareness. We're not fixing anything, we're just being aware. Because you may then be able to prime your day according to your emotional patterns, which would, in the long run, I would think, help your productivity, it's what the literature suggests.
Jeremy Cline 37:06
You've certainly given us a lot to think about. If someone does want to explore this kind of subject any further, you've mentioned literature, are there good primers which you can recommend people to start with?
Dr Mary Rensel 37:18
Yes, I've been really enjoying a book called Big Potential by Shawn Achor. He is a Harvard researcher, a happiness researcher, who went through two years of depression, which is ironic, and he shares a lot about that. And I think his insights and his research are very illustrative. And he makes it very understandable. Shawn Achor. And then, Simon Sinek, I'm always a fan of, especially The Infinite Game, talking about how we keep work interesting for the long run, which is on a lot of people's minds these days.
Jeremy Cline 37:48
Absolutely. And how can people find you? Where would you like them to go?
Dr Mary Rensel 37:52
Yeah, so you can find us on brainopsgroup.com. Or you can find me on LinkedIn,. Mary Rensel. Yeah, so we'd love to connect.
Jeremy Cline 38:01
I'll put links to those in the show notes, as always. Well, Mary, thank you very much. You've given us a few things to think about, but hopefully, some practical changes that people can make, if they feel they need to, to their lifestyle. So, yeah, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Dr Mary Rensel 38:17
Stay well, my pleasure.
Jeremy Cline 38:19
Okay, hope you enjoyed that interview with Dr. Mary Rensel. This was one of those interviews which represents the fact that there very rarely is a silver bullet. There's not this one magic trick which you can use to get rich quick, or to have the perfect healthy lifestyle, or to look after your brain. I'm guessing that a lot of what Mary said when we were talking about looking after your brain, particularly from a lifestyle perspective, was probably quite familiar to you. You know that there are benefits to eating well, you know that there are benefits to getting a decent night's sleep, you know that there are benefits to doing exercise. You were probably aware that having social connections, that having interactions with people was important for your mental wellbeing, and so your brain. And I think quite often we overlook that easy stuff. We're so busy looking for these innovative solutions, these quick wins, and yes, quick wins exist, but very often they're based around something which you knew about anyway. Having said that, I'll bet many people don't do the sort of awareness, the emotional processing that Mary was talking about. I know that journaling sometimes gets mentioned, and we've talked about it on the podcast in previous episodes, but a practical three times a day check in how am I feeling, it's not something that I've previously done, but I can see that it is quite a useful exercise just to check in and consciously be aware of what is going on in your brain. So, lots of practical tips for you to take away. The show notes for this episode are at changeworklife.com/145, that's changeworklife.com/145, for Episode 145. And I've said it before, I'll say it again, but it would help me enormously if you would leave a review for the podcast, preferably on Apple podcasts. That's where most podcast reviews get found. I was reflecting, when I'm choosing something to buy on Amazon or somewhere like that, how much I rely on reviews, how much I take time to look at what people have said about a particular product. And the same is equally true of podcasts. There's a huge amount of content out there, and it's by saying a positive review that someone's going to know that this podcast is worth a listen. So, if the podcast is something which you found helpful, and you'd like to share that with others, then do please take some time to leave a review on Apple podcasts. If you go to changeworklife.com/apple, that changeworklife.com/apple, then that'll take you to the Apple Podcasts page where you can leave your review. In two weeks' time, we're revisiting a subject which I haven't talked about in any great detail in recent podcast episodes, and that's the whole idea around starting your own business as a means to change career. The trouble with starting your own business is that you don't always know whether or not your idea is going to succeed. So, what about if you could start a business where you knew that there was already a proven track record? That's what we're going to talk about in two weeks' time, when we discover the world of franchising and what it's like to buy a franchise. It's a great interview, so make sure you've subscribed to the show if you haven't already, and I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.
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