Dr. Sandi Chapman is the Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair and author of Make Your Brain Smarter. Read on to discover Dr. Chapman's daily approach to mindful living and optimizing brain health.
BuDhaGirl: Were you surprised by the concept of BuDhaGirl?
Dr. Sandi Chapman: Surprised is a hard word because I know Jessica [BuDhaGirl’s Founder] so well... But we do often associate mindfulness and the Dalai Lama as being stripped bare of material things. In that sense, BuDhaGirl is a juxtaposition of different ideas, it suggests that it is okay to be both glamorous and calm.
BDG: Why is mindfulness entering mainstream society now?
SC: I think for two reasons. We can now view the brain in real time. We can actually see differences in the way the brain is working when it is calm. A calm brain can not only work effectively in a chaotic, constantly changing, challenging environment, but it can also to make wise decisions. We think the harder we push our brain the better it works, but actually it’s the calm brain that’s the better chief operation officer - brain science is now supporting that idea. The second reason is that everyone is feeling mentally fatigued. We’ve drained our mental energy, so we are looking for ways to find some peace and calm in the midst of the information overload and the constant distractions that are in our lives today.
BDG: What techniques can we use to de-clutter and refocus?
SC: We talk about ways to prime the brain to be able to engage fully in being innovative and think more deeply. We teach the Brainpowers of None, One and Two.
The Brainpower of None is what mindfulness does - taking advantage of brain breaks. Start small, take five, five-minutes breaks throughout your day to let your brain reset. Mindfulness doesn’t take very long, you don’t have to take an hour, it can be a very simple practice that you do when you feel yourself getting agitated or not thinking clearly.
The Brainpower of One goes along with the idea of being in the present, doing one thing at a time, allowing ourselves to be fully engaged in what we are doing at a single moment in time. Our brains work faster, more energetically and deeper when we just do one thing at a time and don’t allow other distractions to take us off task.
The Brainpower of Two is about setting priorities each day. From your list of 10 or 20 plus to-dos, pick your top two priorities, and break them down into a task that can be completed in less than an hour. Because of our chaotic schedules, it can be tough to focus deeply on one thing, but when you carve out 30 to 45 minutes to accomplish something meaningful, you have a sense of completion that creates a little dopamine burst in your brain that works like a wonder drug to reenergize it.
BDG: How can intentions at the beginning of the day affect us?
SC: What's interesting is that how we talk to ourselves can make us be either successful that day or fail. If we start off thinking "I’m happy" versus "I’m worried, I’m stressed," the intention of making yourself feel that you are going to do something good today can lead to reduced stress levels and increased productivity. Feeling a sense happiness and excitement literally changes the neurochemistry of your brain. So starting off the day with intentions that are in a positive light frames your day and changes your brain instantly.
BDG: What are common practices that people commit daily that is compromising their brain health and function?
SC: There are two common habits that compromise brain health and function. The first is not getting enough sleep, which is needed to allow your brain to recalibrate. We think that if we keep pushing our brain we will get more out of it, but it is actually the opposite. The second is multitasking - multitasking is like asbestos or cigarettes for the brain.
BDG: What rituals do you perform in order to be present during your day?
SC: I start my day with the bible, some meditation and writing notes of gratitude. I believe that whatever way we start our day is how we will approach the rest of the day. If we begin the day feeling calm, and grateful for our health, nature, and the beauty all around us, we will have a better, more productive day than the days where we hit the ground running.
BDG: What’s your idea of ultimate relaxation?
SC: Taking a 30-minute nap with no lights and no sound. When I get home from work, my brain is fried. I don’t want to miss the excitement of the evening, so a quick nap helps me clear my mind and recalibrate for the next part of the day.
BDG: Who is the quintessential BuDhaGirl to you?
SC: There are two. The first is Jessica, because she displays calmness no matter what. Her presence has an aura of beauty and elegance - always calm - a feeling of serenity. Another one is Lyda Hill who is the queen of adventure, but she fully embraces the moment. She is an example of being peaceful and embracing her experiences to the fullest all of the time. No matter what hits her, she has a sense of calm. She’s a pretty amazing BuDhaGirl. She probably doesn’t know it, but she is!