Neurological Nourishment: The Healthy Mind Platter Approach

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

In recent years, leaders in neuropsychology have been touting the concept of the Healthy Mind Platter devised by Daniel Siegel, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute and Clinical Professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, and David Rock, Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute. In essence, the Healthy Mind Platter mimics the USDA’s Choose MyPlate campaign for optimal physical nourishment by outlining the seven core components that allow one to enhance his/her overall mental capacity and wellbeing. Siegel and Rock argue that we must not only nourish ourselves physically, but mentally as well, and that far too many of us are experiencing a deep void in the latter category.

The seven non-negotiable components of the platter are as follows:

  1. focus time: periods of uninterrupted focus on challenging tasks

  2. play time: creative time that helps foster new neural connections

  3. connecting time: time spent with others

  4. physical time: engaging in movement

  5. time-in: periods of reflection and mindfulness

  6. down time: unfocused, relaxation time

  7. sleep time: hours spent resting to help the brain process new information

Society at large seems to have mastered the concept of focus time as we sit and work endlessly at our desks while our children pour over homework at the expense of some free-spirited components. As a result, this disproportionate allocation of time has morphed into a cultural epidemic of anxiety, inability to focus, and mental illness. For example, several studies have demonstrated that a lack of sleep results in “immense deficits in cognitive and emotional processing during wakefulness.” However, budgeting time for a quick 20 minute nap or adding 20 minutes to your regular sleep cycle is enough to maximize your working memory, emotional regulation and overall brain health.

In addition, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “free and unstructured play is...essential for helping children [and adults] reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.” Stuart Brown of the National Play Institute goes on to claim that “playfulness enhances the capacity to innovate, adapt, and master changing circumstances. It is not just an escape… And, often, it can show us a way out of our problems.” Clearly, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our children if we do not incorporate adequate amounts of joyful rejuvenation into our lives.

The Healthy Mind Platter in Action

So how does one take this knowledge and actually implement it into a schedule already teeming with activity? Here are a few family activities to reorient your household toward an even healthier balance:

  • Family Accountability Session: Sit down as a family on the weekend and have each person map out the activities they engage in each day. Take a moment to categorize each activity into one of the seven core components of the Healthy Mind Platter. From there, assess if each family member is “feeding” his/her brain a well balanced “diet.” What does each person need more of? Less of? Have a discussion and meet in a month to monitor progress.

  • Family Relaxation Chart: Designate a place in your house where you can hang a chart with everyone’s name on it. Have everyone write down the activities that they plan to do each week to ensure that they incorporate play time and down time into their days. Turn it into a friendly competition by adding a tally mark each time said activities are completed.

  • Family Meditation: Download the Calm or Headspace app, and dedicate 10 minutes each day to listening to a guided meditation together as a family.

It is my sincere hope that you and your family “dig in” to this platter and take time to sample the different components in order to reap the astounding benefits. After all, spending more time engaging in play time, down time, and connecting not only ensures heightened emotional exchanges, it also has positive effects on all the different bodily systems; when you “feed” your mind, you are actually nourishing your whole system (without any extra carrots or celery!). By serving as a role model for your children and implementing the Healthy Mind Platter in your home, together we can restructure our schedules to rebalance our lives and families.

~Dana Musulin

Assistant Director, Hayutin & Associates

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