the science behind great day #3: am I draining or training my brain?

After twenty years of coaching spiritual and emotional health, I am offering for a week some “plain sense” ideas that are backed by scientific research to help your day get going right. I’ve been adding one suggestion a day for you to review and decide if it could be helpful. I’ve touched on two research-based suggestions so far:

1. Start the morning the night before: mis-en-place.  More on that here.

2. Get up when the alarm rings the first time. More on that here.

So now for the third suggestion based on research. Perhaps the most important one.

I am strange, perhaps. I am fully awake about 1 minute after the alarm goes off. I guess I am one of those annoying morning persons. My wife, on the other hand, isn’t a biological humanoid until two cups of coffee have settled through her system. As I hand her the first cup (really white and sweet), she squints at me and tries to recognize who this strange man is in her kitchen. A few minutes later I am offered a quiet murmur in code, “gmornluvu.” It is a pure unconscious offering, without the possibility of guile. Man, do I love this woman! You should see her blossom the rest of the day! She is best when the clock moves into double digits, and can power through the day well into the night.

Both of us are hungry for input in the morning. Phones or iPads or laptops awake. She is trying to wake up and I am trying to catch up. Check the Dow, or ESPN, or BBC Headlines. How are the kids and our friends? I often am reading in Kindle or doing my Bible devotions on line.

But, honestly, we are both making a big mistake. We are setting our day up for struggle. And we are hurting our brains.


Great Day Suggestion #3:  Don’t turn on the TV news, check your emails, or read Facebook in the first hour of the day.

Studies show that 87% of smartphone users check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up, looking for news or social contact. But is this good? A 2012 University of Pennsylvania study showed that people who watched or listened to just three minutes of electronic news first thing in the morning had a much greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later. And Russell E. Johnson, leading a Michigan State University research team, found that using your smartphone (or other electronic media) in the morning left participants more depleted and discouraged and significantly less able to engage at work. According to the Wall Street Journal, most successful executives leave email and messages until they reach their desks, setting healthy boundaries for their world.

Parents, take note. Findings published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity directly linked the increased amount of screen time to significant drops in GPA for High School students. Amazingly, each added hour of media time (TV, emailing, social media, gaming, grazing) equated to a letter grade drop for students. When all screen time added up to 5 hours per day or more (below the average for most US teens), multiple studies showed that actual brain matter began to atrophy (shrink or lose volume) in areas where humans do our “higher processing.” Areas affected included the important frontal lobe, which governs  planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control. Victoria Dunckley, MD, in Psychology Today (Feb. 27, 2014) noted:

“A finding of particular concern was damage to an area known as the insula, which is involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion. Aside from the obvious link to violent behavior, these skills dictate the depth and quality of personal relationships…

“In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills. ..”

Wow. Another study by Dr. John Jonides, University of Michigan cognitive neuroscientist, found significant Facebook use, especially early in the day, led to declines in moment-to-moment happiness and overall life satisfaction of participants. Reading Facebook often pushed participants into a more passive, non-participation, or comparative mode. The study’s results showed that the earlier and the more people used Facebook, the more they felt something he called “Facebook despair” all day long. Like eating two donuts before working out, taking a handful of vitamins on an empty stomach, or drinking a pot of coffee before a long drive: some things we can do are just not smart.

I love my iPhone, and I am a FB regular. I blog, Tweet, and my phone dings with ESPN notices. (Sorry, honey.) None-the-less, research proves that something in electronic media drains the human brain’s willpower and positive attitude. This is especially true in the morning. It changes our ability to plan and produce good results. It even reduces the number of brain cells we have. Something in a screen connection tells our brain to settle into “passively receive info” mode, greatly reducing inspiration and creativity and well-being. The research is overwhelming, and concerning for our future.

For a great day, we need our brains at their best. So leave the screens off for a while.  Take your cup of coffee into the bathroom and dress first. Go make the bed. Start a load of wash. Walk outside to your garden for a few minutes. Exercise. Sing a few extra songs in the shower. Sort your coupons. Blend a smoothy. Try reading a newspaper, or a devotional, or your Bible first. Engage in life in the real for the first hour. Just do something that ISN’T plugged in. You will notice a difference.

Great day suggestions:

1. Start the morning the night before: mis-en-place.  More on that here.

2. Get up when the alarm rings the first time. More on that here.

3. Skip the electronic media in the morning. Period.

Tomorrow: Making a conscious choice to LIVE TODAY!

Beauty Morning_874-765861


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