If you’ve noticed Olympians wearing headphones before a big race it’s completely intentional, based on the latest in brain science. Music lights up seven regions in the brain, elevating mood and increasing concentration—the same seven regions that shut down when you’re depressed. So, it makes sense to listen to music when you do homework, but only if it’s music you’re familiar with.
This is just one example of the fascinating take-aways Dr. Greg Wells shared, in a wide-ranging talk, part of Branksome’s “Well-Being Speaker Series” co-presented by the Parents’ Association, on Thursday, February 10.
The SickKids scientist, veteran endurance athlete, “human performance optimization” expert and Branksome parent described “stillness as a super-power.” He suggested we all need to slow down and devote one percent of our lives, or just 15 minutes a day, to “being here now,” whether by meditation, slow walking, journaling or any task that offers single-minded, non-multi-tasking focus.
And that’s not just a vague directive for general self-care. Informed by actual magnetic resonance imaging and expertise about what activities spark different types of brainwaves, Wells had a dizzying array of peak-performance hacks to activate five different brain states, each with a distinct function. By intentionally triggering them, you can enhance your ability to perform to your potential.
“Blood flows and brains work best when you’re doing one thing,” he said. It’s no wonder mindless cellphone scrolling is an exhausting distraction. “When you jump back and forth, thinking about different things, you’re pumping blood back and forth, resulting in exhaustion and ‘brain fog.' When we practise directing our attention, we are enabling our ability to control and direct our attention [in daily life].”
He also explained why so many business executives are shifting from golf to cycling as a way to both innovate and recharge. Theta brainwaves, those associated with daydreaming and creativity, are triggered by repetitive and rhythmic movement, which is why you may fight the urge to nod off when long-distance driving.
“Doing anything for long periods, what we call long slow distance, helps you drop into creativity,” he said.
The range of useful knowledge shared will no doubt inform many Branksome family’s weekend plans, especially his insight about why nature is so restorative. We may know “forest bathing,” even once a week, can reduce stress all week long—but not why.
“Built environments have very straight lines but to recharge we need to get outside and have chaotic patterns [i.e. nature] in our visual field,” he says.
He offered a hopeful message, despite increased anxiety levels over the course of the pandemic. If we can take the time to slow down, we can reset, recharge and emerge stronger to protect our mental health.
“It’s about intentionally slowing down and removing distractions to rebuild our relationships, so we can focus more clearly on the people and places we love the most.”