Zen habits are simple lifestyle habits that have the potential to radically alter the efficiency of our minds and the potential of our lives. We can easily integrate these habits into our daily routines to keep our minds sharp and efficient for years to come. Here are seven ways to keep a great head on your shoulders:
First we form habits, then they form us.
– Rob Gilbert
1. Challenge your mind with new activities, skills and information.
The primary function of the human mind is its ability to absorb information and adapt to challenging unfamiliar environments. Do you remember the old saying ‘use it or lose it?’ Nothing could be closer to the truth. If you don’t use your mind, you will lose your mind. So broaden your horizons, learn new skills and challenge your mind every single day.
2. Your mind is part of your body. Fuel, exercise and rest your body properly.
The human brain accounts for roughly 2% of the total mass of the human body, yet it consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients the human body intakes. Therefore, it makes sense to fuel your body with healthy food and keep your blood oxygen levels high with regular exercise. Also, a tired mind is rarely productive, so get yourself enough sleep every night. For a practical guide on maintaining a healthy, fit body I recommend The 4-Hour Body.
3. Pay attention now. Concentrate on the present.
People often obsess themselves with the past and the future. But life is happening right now. You can’t learn something or remember something that’s happening now if your mind is stuck in another time.
It takes about eight seconds of intense focus to process a new piece of information into your long-term memory. So don’t let your life and your mind slip away. Instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, practice being and living in the present moment. Remember, right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. Don’t miss it. The Power of Now is a brilliant resource on this topic.
4. If something requires your attention in the future, write it down in a trusted location.
The more miscellaneous commitments you try to juggle in your mind, the less efficient your mind becomes. There’s absolutely no reason to memorize to-do lists, general reminders and most supplemental information. That’s a huge waste of brainpower that could be spent more wisely on learning something new (see bullet #1). So put your mind at ease by writing down these bits of information in a trusted location that can be easily accessed in the future.
5. Rehearse information frequently – ‘over-learn.’
In a nutshell, over-learning is the continued practice of material or skills long after the material or skills have been mastered. The primary goal is information retention – to practice something until it becomes second nature to you, like an automatic function of who you are.
Over-learning is frequently used by people who make public speeches or those who must perform certain functions on the spot with little support or external assistance. For example, a concert pianist doesn’t stop learning a piece of music she will perform once she initially masters it. She keeps practicing it so that it’s automatic and there’s little possibility of forgetting it when she performs in front of a large audience.
You can easily apply the concept of over-learning in your own life by reviewing what you’ve learned the same day you learn it and at regular intervals thereafter – something researchers call ‘spaced rehearsal.’ And once you over-learn whatever it is you’re studying, you’ll always be prepared to employ the information or skill at a moment’s notice.
6. Develop and nurture long-lasting, stimulating relationships.
Human beings are social creatures. Regular interaction with close friends and family is regarded by most mental health professionals as the number one source of happiness in a human being’s life. When the human mind is happy, it is less stressed. And a less stressed mind is a more efficient mind.
7. Be motivated, keep a positive attitude and find something to smile about.
Each one of the six points above has the ability to make your mind more efficient (and change your life). But when you combine them with positive thinking their beneficial effects increase exponentially.
Positive thinking is at the forefront of every great success story. The mind must believe it can do something before it is capable of actually doing it. So be aware of your mental self-talk. We all talk silently to ourselves in our heads, but we aren’t always conscious of what we’re saying or how it’s affecting us. Start listening to your thoughts. If you hear negative thoughts, stop for a second and replace them with positive thoughts.
As the Dalai Lama once said, “The way to overcome negative thoughts and destructive emotions is to develop opposing, positive emotions that are stronger and more powerful.” For some practical positive thinking guidance, I recommend reading The Power of Positive Thinking.
Now remember, what counts the most is not what you learned by reading this article (or any article for that matter), but how you apply this knowledge. You must take action. So start small, but start now.
Choose one of the seven bullet points above that speaks to you the loudest and practice it for a few minutes today, tomorrow and every day for the next several months. Eventually, one day, without even thinking about it you’ll start doing it automatically. And you’ll suddenly realize that these short practice sessions have evolved into a permanent, internalized, zen habit.