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Journey to Brain Health

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

November Sakura. Acrylic on canvas. Artjamming, 2014.

If you’ve ever wondered about the state of your own brain health, or how to factor in your family history or lifestyle habits, you’ll want to check out the Brain Health Index Quiz.

I created the Brain Health Index (BHI) as a screening tool in order to help you gauge your level of personal risk. The Index takes into account such factors as current brain function, satisfaction with proven lifestyle interventions, and familial risk.

Your BHI Score places you in one of four stages in the journey to optimal brain performance. There is quite a bit of overlap between the stages, and I’ve been back and forth a lot myself between stages, but I’ve found the basic framework to be helpful in thinking through priorities.

Stage 0 : Denial

I’m 100% certain that if I had been presented with the opportunity to do an assessment like this even 2 years ago, I would have said No Way. I would have been like, “Why would I want to find out about my dementia risk, when there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it anyway?”

Photo by philbo-on-unsplash

I call that the Denial stage - and I was definitely in denial about my dementia risk for at least the first fifty years of my life. But being in Denial means that you are pushing away or avoiding fear. I could ignore that fear 99% of the time, and then I would randomly get triggered to face up to my dread and despair, melting down into a hot mess in seconds. Like the time that I lost my passport while traveling in Cambodia - I was somehow sure that my life was over because I was doomed to an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

It takes a lot of energy to sustain Denial, because you are always having to be vigilant about pushing away or avoiding those fears, lest they overcome your resistance. I believed that Denial was the only survival strategy for managing my worry and straight up terror. But when I was hiding out in Denial, I was NOT learning about the emerging research on dementia prevention.

Stage 0: main priority is to create safety so that we can break out of denial

It took tremendous courage for me to come toe-to-toe with myself by facing down my fears. But it was also a relief to be able to let go of having to maintain my denial, my forcefield of protection. I learned that it’s okay to be afraid of dementia. The reality is that everyone is afraid - dementia is the #2 health worry out there (#1 is cancer). No one talks about it, but that fear is real.

Stage 1: Freedom Fighter

This was me before I even learned that dementia could be prevented, and while I was still struggling with burnout. I had not been happy about my overall health and stress levels for over a decade, but it seemed like one thing or another kept getting in the way of me being able to sort things out.

I was worried about my health and I knew that brain health was important, because I could see what a huge impact dementia was having on my family. I knew that avoiding and procrastinating were not the answer.

Stage 1: Freedom Fighter - main challenge is to take targeted tiny action

When I was in Stage 1, I would commit to a certain health goal like running in the morning, and then when I slept in and didn’t get up to run, I would berate myself for being such a failure. And then I learned through self coaching that there really is no failing, only learning about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to building health habits. That is to say, I could fail to follow through and choose to give up on myself as being hopeless, or I could decide to pick myself up and learn what didn’t work.

Brain Health Index Journey

Stage 2: Opportunity Seeker

When I was in Stage 2, I felt like I never had the time to take care of myself. There were too many other responsibilities and obligations. Too many other demands on my time. I was worried about brain health because I knew by then how important brain health was to my own future and I definitely didn’t want to be a burden to my family.

I was having some success in terms of following through on health habits. But I felt like I was always looking for smarter ways to juggle all of my commitments, while also managing my stress. I was constantly prioritizing others and putting self care on the backburner when things got busy - which was pretty much all the time. I believed that I needed to do more, but there just didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.

Stage 2: Opportunity Seeker - main challenge is to prioritize self care

What I learned was that I was making everyone else and everything else more important than me and my brain health. I was in the habit of dismissing self care as not being important enough. But actually I was just causing myself more stress because I could never satisfy the needs of others, when I wasn’t even meeting my own.

Stage 3: Curious Creative

By the time I reached Stage 3, I was feeling pretty healthy overall and comfortable with how I was taking care of myself. I still had a few areas of concern or risk factors for brain disease, and it became a matter of what to focus on next. I am interested in learning more and willing to take action where necessary. I want to be sure that I am doing the right things that will make a positive impact on my brain health over the long term.

So what I’m learning at this stage is that there’s no rush. I have totally already beaten the odds by getting here. By being curious about my brain health, by having shown up for myself yet again. There are so many things that I could do to improve my brain health, and it’s easy to get lost with all the new brain health research coming out all the time.

Photo by Dushawn Jovic on Unsplash

But it ultimately comes down to two questions: “Is it working?” and “Can I keep doing this for the rest of my life?” It takes patience to go through the process of trial and error, but I have learned to tune in to my body’s signaling, and to trust myself to figure out what lifestyle interventions are a good fit for me personally.

This process feels a lot like the creative process for me when I’m making art. I start with an idea for what I want to do. It might be inspired by a particular image, art material or color palette. I start in by creating, and then stop to see if I like how it looks. I know that I’ll encounter problems to solve or even mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned to trust this iterative dialogue between action and intuitive sense to guide me.

Stage 3: Curious Creative - main challenge is to read and trust your body signals

When I am inspired by trying out a new habit, like not charging my phone on the bed stand, I may have learned about it from an article, book, podcast or friend. I try it out for a few days and then assess how my sleep may have been impacted. How did I like allowing my brain to wake up without immediately reaching for my phone? Did I prefer staying longer in the alpha/ theta brain wave state?

Stage 4: Intrepid Explorer

There are a surprising number of people who are already at Stage 4 in their journey. They are intentional about prioritizing health and wellness, with relatively few major risk factors for brain disease. Their interest in brain health has led them to explore new frontiers in neuroscience as they emerge, discerning what will serve them while maintaining a healthy skepticism.

They feel like they are already doing “everything right,” and are looking for new areas to explore. Sometimes it feels like preventive lifestyle measures may not be enough and surely there’s more that can be done?

Stage 4: Intrepid Explorer - main challenge is to align with purpose

The answer is that yes, there is so much more that will help. Even if your physical health is more or less all dialed in, our mindwork always represents new horizons. Beyond building resilience against stresses in work and life, figuring out the best approach requires reflection on values, purpose and what matters most.

Brain Health Index Stages

Using the metaphor of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this stage of the journey is about aligning with our higher purpose and spending more time in the flow state. For me, it’s about empowering others to envision and actualize their path to healthy mind and body on their 100th birthday.

Engaging the Mind to Protect the Brain

I have come to see the wisdom of Nature’s design, with all her layers of protection for my precious brain. And I realized that my most powerful weapon in the fight against dementia is actually housed within the brain itself. That is, my mind.

Our human minds are endlessly miraculous in their capacity to create solutions and automate, but they can also cause us tremendous stress through fear and worry about countless issues involving work, relationships, money, and so on. The Mind Mastery Program teaches us the skills to cut out the noise and drama, so that we can harness the power of our supercomputer minds.

Canva image

Next Steps

If you are interested in figuring out what you can do to take care of your brain health, I would encourage you to take the Brain Health Index Quiz HERE.



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