If you want to be more successful, smarter, and happier, then get ready: I’m about to tell you exactly how to do it. That’s right, you, too, can be more successful just by making a few simple lifestyle changes that could actually also make you smarter and happier. And it’s all backed by serious, hardcore science.
I just finished reading Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization and I also interviewed the author, John Ratey, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (you can find that interview here). Everything I’m about to tell you about the ways to be more successful, smarter, and happier comes directly from the book and my conversation with Dr. Ratey.
So get ready, because this is simple stuff, but it means making one decision—just one. In fact, Dr. Ratey told me in our interview that you just have to pick one thing and start there, because just like unraveling a sweater, once you pull on the thread, it all comes apart. Dr. Ratey recommends starting with exercise, because it’s easy to do and doesn’t require much beyond sneakers, if even that, but also says each person should pick whatever’s easiest for him or her and start there.
Finally, before I get into ways to be more successful, smarter, and happier, bear in mind that Dr. Ratey and his co-author, Richard Manning, specifically say that they don’t make recommendations that everyone should follow. Each individual must look at his or her own life and determine what works best. So while these are general suggestions, don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you.
5 Easy Ways To Be More Successful, Smarter, and Happier
Leo and I had gotten in the habit of watching TV before bed and then, once we were a little tired, using our phones to individually watch shows on Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube until we fell asleep. I don’t know how or why we got into this habit, but it’s how we fell asleep most nights.
According to Go Wild, this practice was definitely affecting our sleep patterns. There’s a big link between light and sleep, meaning that we’re designed so that we start to get sleepier as the light dims (e.g. sunset), but we use artificial light to be able to continue activities after dark, which is okay, but when sunlight (or any light that mimics sunlight, e.g. the average lightbulb) strikes a tiny gland behind the eye, it regulates melatonin. Computers, televisions, and even our phones tend to impact melatonin production, which ultimately impacts our ability to sleep. So Dr. Ratey recommends turning off computers and TVs and dimming lights for a few hours before bedtime to improve sleep.
As for what to do during that time? Talk. Read a real book. Giggle. Think. Meditate. Or, as Dr. Ratey suggested in our interview, make love. Bottom line, this is a great time to connect with other human beings.
Our Big Experiment:
Sleep is where Leo and I started our journey of exploration. Our first experiment was to turn off our phones and all technology a couple of hours before bedtime. It turned out to be a wonderful time to reflect, talk, giggle, and wind down at the end of the day—a real opportunity for connection.
We tried another experiment as well: we downloaded a recording of a crackling fire and set it on a loop so it played throughout the night.
Anthropologically, tribes tend to sleep around a fire, and there’s something about the sound of a fire that tells you that you’re safe from animals, and if the fire isn’t going out, that someone is tending to the fire, so it’s okay to go into a deep sleep.
It might sound nutty, but according to the research, our brains actually are hard-wired this way, so that if, for example, you sleep with a dog and the dog sleeps soundly, then you will sleep soundly, knowing that the dog is programmed to be protective and to wake at any hint of danger. If the dog’s asleep, you’re probably safe.
The first night we tried this experiment, Leo had been out at a rehearsal until late, so we didn’t get as much sleep as we normally try to (8.5 hours, minimum, according to Go Wild). But even with less sleep than normal, there was something decidedly different when we woke the next morning. We both felt…calmer. More peaceful. I had no hint of the racing what-do-I-have-to-do-today brain activity I typically experience in the mornings. It was just…nicer.
To be more successful, eating better has to mean more than just following the USDA food pyramid. It’s not just about getting more fruits and vegetables.
Specifically, you have to start looking at the qualities in the foods you eat. I thought I was being super-healthy by making a smoothing every morning with a banana, strawberries, mango, spinach, almond milk, a little pineapple juice, some chia seeds, and flax seed. Sounds healthy, right? Not so much. Turns out, I was starting every day by carb-loading. Oops. And not only that, but I developed acid reflux because it turns out that carbs create an environment in your gut that can lead to reflux.
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