A health journalist shares the best advice learned from doctors, psychologists, yoga instructors and scientists.
While covering health and wellness for magazines and newspapers, Jessica Cassity compiled a treasure trove of research-backed advice on how to live a happier, healthier, more fulfilling and less stressful life. From her new book, Better Each Day, here are ten small changes you can make to start living better now.
Learn Better After a Brain Break
If a thought-provoking movie, lecture, or book leaves your brain ready for a rest, go ahead and tune out for a little bit. Researchers have found that taking a mental break—like zoning out while you wash the dishes, or simply switching your thoughts to an easier topic—can actually help you retain any information you just learned. In a study recently conducted at New York University, people were asked to memorize pairs of images. Scientists measured brain activity while subjects viewed images and committed them to memory, and also a few minutes later, during a wakeful rest period. They found that absorbing information activated a certain spot in the brain, and in some cases, the brain became even more active during the rest period, which resulted in higher rates of retention.
Daydreaming isn’t a guaranteed path to better memory, but it’s worth a try. In the middle of an intense study session, take a short break, then revisit the work and see how well you remember.
Use Your Mind-Body Connection to Strengthen Your Resolve
If you have a hard time flexing your willpower, try flexing your biceps instead. It turns out that clenching your muscles can actually help you to shore up the self-control you need to eat healthfully, commit to unpleasant tasks, and bypass calorie-loaded treats, among other good-for-you behaviors.
In one recent study from the University of Chicago, researchers asked people to clench their muscles while drinking unsavory health drinks, while experiencing a painful situation, or when faced with temptation that was hard to turn down. When participants flexed—whether it was a finger, calf, or bicep that contracted—they all had stronger resolve, drinking more of the healthy beverage, bypassing the bad-for-you foods, and tolerating discomfort for longer. Use this tactic the next time you need a boost in willpower: Simply make a fist and you’ll skate through any situation with ease.
Vent Strategically After an Argument
Everyone’s done it—you argue with a friend, then reach out to another friend for validation. The more people you get on your side, the more correct you are, right? While a vote of support will help you feel justified in continuing to fight, it probably won’t help you solve the problem. Instead, seek the viewpoint of a trusted friend not to win the argument, but to try to see the argument more clearly.
When you reach out for help in a dispute, find a person who you think will be able to shed light on the other person’s perspective, says Robert Gould, PhD, chair of the department of conflict resolution at Portland State University. Rather than asking her to take sides, see if she can help you to see where the other person is coming from. Just don’t let this information cause you to acquiesce too soon, warns Gould. “Some people give in to other people’s perspectives too easily, so use a conversation with a friend to help you discover your own perspective more deeply, too.”
Dine Alfresco For Mealtime Satisfaction
You’ve heard of the benefits of mindful eating, but paying attention to your food is often easier said than done. Luckily, there’s a quick fix: if you have a hard time focusing on your food while you eat, move your meal outdoors, says Sarah Livia Szekely Brightwood, who runs Rancho La Puerta, a popular retreat in Mexico with a renowned garden and cooking school. When you eat outdoors, your senses are nourished by the sights, sounds, and smells of nature, says Brightwood. As a result, you’re fully awake and engaged in the moment, which helps you to slow down, savor the meal, and ultimately eat less to feel satisfied.
Put an End to Waffling Over Decisions
If you’re second-guessing yourself about a choice you just made, head for the sink for a quick regret-rinse-off. Recent research from psychologists at the University of Michigan found that the simple act of washing your hands can help you to stop questioning your judgment. While the decisions being made in the study were trivial—ranking preference of one CD over another—this act of “cleaning the slate” by washing your hands may work to help you gain confidence in the bigger choices you encounter, too, like deciding which car to buy, or when to have a difficult conversation.
Cool Mona Note: Hold on, more tomorrow.