Stop sleepwalking through life

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What isn’t possible after a good night’s sleep?

Sleep is dedicated time for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself. If you sleep for less than six hours a night, there’s a body of research to show that you will live a shorter life.

I recently explored why the theme of sleep is so popular today.

We’re busier than ever. As technology distracts us and makes information more accessible, the things stimulating our minds all fight against each other for our precious attention. Ask yourself this: would you take yourself off to bed one hour earlier simply to sleep? Or, more likely, would you use that hour updating your social media channels, browsing for your next purchase, or writing your start-up business plan? More often than not, the latter wins, meaning your window of sleep is getting smaller.

The science of attention, and how we can improve it, is discussed in this TEDx talk. It turns out that to improve your attention span, practice really does make perfect. The more you put time aside to concentration on something, the better your brain gets at the process of focussing your attention.

Here are three reasons why you really should stop, think and sleep. Here’s an excerpt from a recent piece with Richard Jolly, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School (LBS).

Why don’t we do the things we know we should be doing? It’s a question that Jolly asks executives daily.

1. Stop

You’re busy. Are you prepared to put on the brakes?

In January 2016, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum said that people and technology had reached a crossroads. “We should not stay human; we should become better humans,” he said. He meant that artificial intelligence is beginning to occupy the work that can be programmed – forcing people to be more creative, self-aware and empathetic, in essence, more human. What makes people human comes from their brain chemistry, so people have to stop for the sake of their most important attribute in a digital world.

And what are brains for? Thinking.

2. Think

The act of thinking is a lifestyle choice, and one that improves brain health.

When people are thinking, they often take their hands to their temples. It’s the place that generates people’s thoughts, feelings and movements. It’s also the home of ideas.

“Humans don’t like uncertainty. As the world gets more complex, the ability to generate new ideas and adapt rapidly, are vital skills. That’s why we need time to think about the critical things. As we get caught up in the short term, focusing on the long term gets harder, particularly with the distraction of technology.”

Thinking time helps us survive, adapt and prosper. But no one can think without sleep.

 3. Sleep

What’s good for the body is good for the brain, too.

But how much sleep is enough to make you sharp? And how much is too much to make you slow and groggy? “It takes time to test,” he says.

Ariana Huffington is a prime example of someone who underslept and overworked,” he says. “But today, she’s an authority on sleep.”

If sleep increases productivity and happiness, and supports smarter decisions, why are people still bragging about their terrible sleep habits? Because bad sleep supports the outdated idea that if you’re busy, you’re important.

Why inspire?

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Trucks and women don’t normally go together. Japanese owned Isuzu Motors makes world-renowned trucks; its Japanese executives did not expect to meet a woman when the new CEO stepped off the plane in Tokyo, 1996. Such was the confusion of her Japanese hosts, that to celebrate the company’s latest deal they took the very feminine Nikki King to a transgender nightclub.

This week we celebrated International Women’s Day and I was lucky enough to attend London Business School’s student-run annual Women in Business Conference.  You know what?  I left feeling inspired.  It makes me think: where does the inherent need to be inspired come from? And what do we look for in those who inspire us?

For me, Nikki King, keynote speaker and chairwoman of Isuzu truck firm inspires.  I can pinpoint two reasons I admire her: she’s successful in a male orientated industry and she’s funny as hell. If you need more reasons than that: during her keynote speech she swore – for the good of her story. As I interviewed her, she made no apology about eating a biscuit as we spoke, candidly I might add.  She has mentored a company called ‘Women with Waders’ – enough said about that, I think.  She answered my opening interview question “what car do you drive?” with humorous acceptance, as I hoped she would.  And most of all, she knows her stuff.

The science bit: mirror neurons

So, I’m inspired and I have a new role model in Nikki.  But why do I need to be inspired? In modern neuroscience the discovery of mirror neurons is a big deal. They are cells that fire during both the observation and execution of an action or behaviour. It’s worth saying now: the research is still to be understood fully. Nevertheless they have been linked to behaviours and abilities, from empathy to learning by imitation.  In other words, we all scientifically need role models to learn from.

The idea of role modelling, as a way of learning  how to behave and think optimally, could be the key to how we learn a new skill quickly, and perhaps, succeed.  We don’t just learn knowledge, and understanding, but we absorb the attitude of the person we learn from.  Their enthusiasm for a subject can spark a new passion in us that we didn’t ever have before.  For me it’s ‘Women with Waders’.

A charismatic force

One of my many reasons for admiring Nikki is her charisma and her ability to make an entire room of 200-plus women laugh. Raina Brands, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School recently answered the question: what is a charismatic leader?

A charismatic leader is really someone who is very transformational. So it encapsulates a lot of different things but it is somebody who can really set a vision for the organisation and inspire people just through sheer force of their personal charisma.”

Interestingly Brands goes on to explain that being charismatic is in the eye of the beholder.  So, we are all inspired by different people.  Which makes sense – I’m sure mentoring ‘Women with Waders’ and driving trucks won’t do it for everyone.

Some people will feel charisma and some people will see you as very charismatic, but some people won’t be affected by you at all.”

Scientifically-speaking we need role-models. Remember, our nerve cells work by copying what we see and our motor neurons replicate that behaviour.  The good news is that there are role models ‘out there’ for all of us, plenty enough to go around. There are also plenty of anti-role models, typically in the public eye, for us to choose from.  I’m interested, who inspires you?

Picture citation: Benjamin Lehman, Woman’s Work, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most depressing day of the year

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I’m feeling bright and I’m feeling breezy, but wait: it’s officially the most depressing day of the year.

This year Blue Monday – the day that researchers say is the most depressing day of the year – is today and will be a foghorn for all mental health illness. The hashtag #bluemonday24 (for 24 hour posts) is set.  So use it!

The world health organisation says that in 2030 mental health will be one of the biggest concerns. And we know that one in four people experience a mental health problem each year.  Many will come into contact with the police either as victims of crime, witnesses, offenders or perhaps when detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Police are now working with a wide range of agencies, such as health services and voluntary sector services, to ensure there’s an appropriate response which meets the needs of individuals with mental health problems. But, there still isn’t enough support for mental health services and governments need to sit up and take notice, like Mind is already doing.

The mental health charity recently received an accolade in recognition of the valuable work it does – via its helpline – to support those affected by mental health problems. Recent figures show demand for the Infoline has risen by 55 per cent in two years. Since 2012 the number of people contacting the Mind Infoline for advice and support has risen from 51,300 to 79,600.

I’m trying to do something good on the most miserable day of the year, so, if you want to do something great too, please share this, or join in the conversation on social media, using #bluemonday24.

There is a stigma for those in ‘possession’ of mental health of feeling alone, so today, spare just five minutes – on the most depressing day of the year – and help others feel a little bit brighter, and maybe a little better.

Picture citation: Natalie Schmid, Eyes Closed, Mind Open (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Words that (grey) matter

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I love to learn new words.  Let’s call new words category A ­­– words that I don’t already have stored in my head – my latest being ‘oligarchy’ which is firmly positioned centre in my grey matter now.

With the latest print edition of the Collins English dictionary contacting 50, 000 newly-added words I can’t help but sigh and ask myself, how on earth will I learn the new words (category B – newly submitted words) ­when I’m still storing category A words in my neurological hub?

I should really have no fear because I’ve read articles like this and so I know that out of the 17 principles of having a healthy brain I meet but five of the criteria, so technically I have enough brain storage to stockpile category A and B words.

17 principles to brain gymnastics

I ‘tick’ these, do you?

  • Physical exercise
  • Life-long learning
  • Mental stimulation
  • Social interaction
  • Sleep
  • Stress management
  • Laughter
  • Vegetables
  • Care for your heart
  • Musical training
  • Repeated testing, rather than repeated studying

But uh oh, fail!

X Healthy breakfast – nothing, and coffee
X Blueberries – only if they are on special offer
X Red wine – Prosecco for me, always
X Learning a language via song – who really does this?
X Neurobics – changing your routine – never


I’ll run through my top three now.

One: physical exercise
Researchers have found the areas of the brain that are stimulated through exercise are associated with memory and learning. Aha, tick!  I work out most days now, after having three major spine operations – I knew it had to count towards something.

Two: lifelong learning
Learning over time enhances memory and the survival of new brain cells.  So, you are literally growing your brain, imagine that! Done. I’m learning to cook – my husband would say this is ‘ongoing’.  And it’s a priority for me to stay informed about what’s going on in the world, that’s every-day lifelong learning.

Three: neurobics
Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, coined neurobics, a unique system of brain exercises using your five physical senses and your emotional sense in unexpected ways.  In other words, shaking up your everyday routine. I’m afraid, this is definitely not for me.  I use the same locker at the gym; always get my clothes out the night before work, and I walk the same route to and from the train station.


So, now that I’ve given myself an ego boost by meeting 71% of the brain criteria, I’m feeling mentally agile and at full learning capacity to absorb the newly submitted – category B words.

Imagine my inaudible gasp (of dismay) when I find out that I must learn horrible words:

Selfie – if you don’t know what this word is I’m afraid you’ve been hiding under a rock, may I suggest you type on your keyboard: hideous spoof song ‘selfie’ into YouTube, hmm catchy!

Onesie – simple, all-in-one outfit.  You know, the one your relatives bought you for Christmas and you exchanged it on the 26 December.

Photobomb – an uninvited person (or animal) in a photo, normally taken on a smartphone.

Adorkable – a blend of adorable and dork, how charming!

Twerking – apart from meaning the worst word of all time? A perverse dance ritual performed by moving the hips rapidly back and forth while standing with the feet apart (also known as humping).

But it’s ok! There’re some valid, fun and useful category B words too, phew!:

Al desko – a meal at one’s desk, at one’s place of work. I’m partial to an al desko lunch whilst browsing BBC news.

Bitcoin – a system of open source peer-to-peer software for the creation and exchange of payment in a certain type of cryptocurrency. No, not Kryptonite.

Textonym – one of two or more words that can be generated by pressing the same key combinations on a mobile phone: book = cool

Vape – to inhale nicotine vapour. Thus vaping (to vape).

And that’s enough to keep you going!  I skipped my healthy breakfast so I’m off now to learn a language via song, sift through some category A words and remove some category B from my over-exerted grey matter.

Picture citation: My Name is Rom My Brain, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0