The small, seemingly insignificant choices you make today are shaping the brain you have to live with tomorrowWe all have the same 24 hours in one day and 8760 hours in one year — if we’re lucky.

None of us are guaranteed any of it. All any of us are ever guaranteed is this very moment — the present.

I will guarantee you one thing though — the tiny, seemingly insignificant choices you make over and over “in this moment” every day are shaping your brain and health, including your mental health, and building the life you will enjoy (or not enjoy) in the future.

Consciously or unconsciously, we make the choice about what’s important to us by how we choose to spend our time, and, in doing so, we impact our future health and lives.

You Choose With Your Time

If someone consistently has 60-hour work weeks, while they may advance quickly in their career, it would hardly be surprising when their relationships suffer or if they are stalled and unhappy in other areas of their life. They are making the choice to treat their career as the top priority at the expense of other parts of their life.

You may not feel as if you have many choices as to how you spend your time with the cost of living increasing and bills rolling in non-stop. However, ultimately, you are making binding choices daily as you acquire items and move through life subscribing to a particular lifestyle. There is always a trade-off of your time.

An alternative would be to choose a simpler, less expensive lifestyle that may not be as comfortable or as impressive by societal standards, but which allows you to work less, feel less stressed, spend more time with family and friends, rest and relax more, and pursue healthy habits and hobbies.

It IS a choice — even if it’s not a conscious one.

Your Choices Determine Your Life and Health

If someone comes home from work and plops down on the sofa in front of the TV with a bag of chips, this too is a choice to invest one’s time in a way that may show up as negative health consequences later. Someone choosing to use their time to exercise, meditate, read, paint or cook a healthy meal is creating a different life and future for themselves.

Your life is the culmination of your small, everyday, seemingly insignificant choices.

In a movie I watched, In Time, the currency of the world is time, rather than money. Everyone stops physically aging at 25 years old and can live infinitely as long as they can afford it. People are paid in denominations of time, and they bank and save time. Everything from a cup of coffee to gas, groceries, and rent costs time. When someone runs out of time, they die. Therefore, the rich can live forever and time is life.

While the movie didn’t get good reviews, I enjoyed it and thought the concept was thought-provoking. Even though our society operates on money, I would posit that the real cost of money is time, unless you win the lottery or come into a large inheritance. Hence, the underlying cost of money is your time which ends up being your life because how you spend your time is how you live your life.

The small, seemingly insignificant choices you make today are shaping the brain you have to live with tomorrow

Changing My Perception of Time

After my brain injury, resulting from an attempt to end my life, I woke up from a coma in the hospital with no perception of time. Despite the window to the left of my bed, I had no concept of night and day either.  In the hospital, with the glaring fluorescent lights and the blinds closed, there was no night or day, and with my mind not fully functioning, time didn’t really exist either. I existed entirely in the present. That’s all my mind was capable of. It was always right now.

That really is true for all of us, whether we realize it or not — no brain injury required.

It is always right now, and all we can ever be certain of is the present moment. The choices you make in the present moment are important — even the seemingly small, insignificant ones — because you’re not guaranteed more, and if you do get more, your choices now impact what those will be. The concept of bringing your mind into the present moment is a fundamental pillar of mindfulness.

Being brain injured taught me how to live in the moment and changed my relationship with time. As my brain healed, I gradually came back into being and experienced the common phenomenon of time with all of its stress and demands. However, I was now aware that these things were constructs of my mind and that I could choose my response to my thoughts and guide my mind to be calmer and happier..

Changing Your Life — One Choice at a Time

It can be overwhelming to look at your life and habits and realize all the changes that you need to make to be healthier and happier. My advice is not to stress yourself out and try to overhaul multiple things at once. You can do it one choice at a time. By making slight alterations in your daily habits, over time and with repetition, you can change your brain, health, life, and future.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to be healthier now and in the future, and you have a great deal of power to influence this with the choices you make every day. When you assert the influence you have, you will reap benefits today and tomorrow. This is especially true when it comes to your brain.

Your brain is capable of changing and learning new patterns at any age. Through neuroplasticity and mindfulness, you can develop skills and change your brain operation to improve brain functioning and mental health. And you can do it one choice at a time. Below are simple ways to support your brain and health and shape a more positive future for yourself.

Challenge Your Brain Every Day

Learning something new is not just fun, it challenges your brain and stimulates the birth of new neurons and connections. Studies have shown that older adults who learned a new skill had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitive-related activities.

Learning to speak a new language, playing a musical instrument, mastering a new craft or hobby, going back to school, and traveling are all great and all have documented brain benefits. However, if you don’t choose to do any of that, take comfort in knowing that about any activity that forces your brain to stretch, grow, and learn is going to be good for you. Activities that require mental focus switch on neuroplasticity, promote the growth of new synapse connections, and lead to strong neural wiring.

You want to mix it up for the best results. While doing the daily crossword puzzle may be fun, it’s not going to do much for your brain because you’re asking it to do the same task over and over. Your brain needs novelty. Computer brain training can encourage and direct neuroplasticity and exercise your memory, attention, and other cognitive skills to help keep them in shape.

Some small ways you can choose to challenge your brain and add novelty to your day are:

  • Learn a new vocabulary word in your native language.
  • Learn the meaning and pronunciation of one word in a foreign language.
  • Read one article about something new to you.
  • Listen to a podcast or watch a documentary about something you aren’t familiar with.
  • Try out a new recipe and eat at a different place than usual.
  • Tour a new-to-you museum or exhibit of some kind.
  • Have a new experience, such as visiting a new restaurant, driving an unfamiliar route to a familiar location, listening to a new genre of music, etc.
  • Strike up a conversation with someone you do not know.
  • Read one chapter of a book. Repeat daily until you’ve finished the book!

The small, seemingly insignificant choices you make today are shaping the brain you have to live with tomorrow

Reach Out, Interact, Stay Social

Humans are social animals who need contact with one another. Your brain needs it. In fact, the strongest predictor of a species’ brain size is the size of its social group. You have that big brain in your head in order to socialize. Your brain’s top concern is always your survival. There’s safety in numbers. That’s why your brain likes to be part of a group and feels stressed when it’s not. Whether it’s fish or humans, animals that find themselves on the periphery of their social groups are the ones most at risk from predators. Being in that type of danger causes the brain to stay in self-preservation mode — always stressed and on alert.

Participating in social activities and engaging in conversations with others are good brain stimulators. Keeping in touch with friends and loved ones and maintaining connections will help keep your spirits up and your brain engaged and who knows what positive things will happen as a result of the interactions. Face-to-face is best, but if that is not possible, electronic communication works too.

Some suggestions for making little social changes are:

  • Try Facetiming or Zooming with friends or family.
  • Schedule a meal or outing with friends or family.
  • Join a book, hiking, board game, or any other club that might interest you.
  • Make an effort to have an interaction with a live person every day – preferably, in-person, but if that’s not possible through a phone or computer.
  • Chat with the checkout person and ask them “How’s your day going?” Strike up a conversation with a stranger while standing in line. Science has confirmed that these small interactions can have a major impact.
  • Volunteer to help out in any way that appeals to you.

Prioritize Sleep

Every aspect of your life is affected by sleep — or lack of it, from looking and feeling your best to your having healthy relationships to meeting your goals on the job. But in today’s fast-paced, multi-media world, it can be difficult to get enough sleep with all the items on our daily to-do lists. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation has become the norm.

Remember, it IS a choice of where you allocate your time. Sleep may seem like a waste of time, but it is most definitely not!

Studies have shown that insufficient sleep can increase your likelihood of developing dementia. Lack of sleep impacts your immune system, memory, emotions, and weight, and can contribute to depression and anxiety. Research even shows that not getting enough sleep may shrink your brain.

Sleep is absolutely essential for your brain to work properly because during sleep your brain is busy processing information, consolidating memories, making connections, and clearing out toxins. When asleep, your brain does its housekeeping, and not having adequate time to do this could potentially accelerate neurodegenerative diseases.

  • A suggestion to get more sleep is to go to bed five minutes earlier. Then add five more minutes the next week and the next until you are getting an extra half hour or hour of sleep. Your brain and body will thank you.

The small, seemingly insignificant choices you make today are shaping the brain you have to live with tomorrow

Keep Moving

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain and overall health. Fortunately for us, the level of physical activity required to get health benefits is not all that high. It might surprise you to hear that something as simple as walking produces meaningful results. It doesn’t even have to be power walking. Just a 30-minute brisk walk can have a positive impact on your brain and health.

Research found that a brief, ten-minute session of aerobic exercise can improve executive function and increase problem-solving abilities. A short burst of cardio activity — think dancing, jumping on a trampoline, mowing the yard, or working in the garden — qualifies. Exercise is also one of the best things you can do to help prevent dementia and other cognitive changes that may come with age. Sanjay Gupta, a Harvard Medical School neurosurgeon, urges us to “Think of inactivity as a disease.”

If you don’t want to go to the gym or sign up for an exercise class, no worries. There are many little ways to build more movement into your day:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park far away from your destination.
  • March in place while your coffee is heating up in the microwave.
  • When getting up out of a chair, do five squats back down to the chair and up.
  • Do five minutes of stretching when you get up or before bed.
  • Stand or walk while you talk on the phone.
  • Stand, walk on a treadmill, or ride a stationary bike while watching TV.
  • Move more while you cook.
  • Turn cleaning into cardio.
  • Turn on happy music and dance around for five minutes. If you are having fun (bet you are), do it for five more.

Feeling inspired:

  • Go to an exercise class.
  • Do a YouTube video.
  • Take a walk outside.

Improve Your Diet

You may think that cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s are just unavoidable parts of getting older. They’re not. Science has proven that dietary habits over your lifetime play a crucial role in determining whether you develop dementia. Research shows that altering your diet can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease by as much as 50 percent. According to the latest science, the answer is not found in eating any one food. The best results may be seen when supplementing your brain with a combination of nutrients that work together to support and nourish it.

The Mind Diet, developed by Martha Clare Morris, Ph.D., and her colleagues from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, takes two proven diets – DASH and Mediterranean – and combines them zeroing in on the foods in each that specifically improve brain health. In studies, the MIND diet lowered the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53 percent in participants that followed the diet rigorously. There was a 35 percent reduction in risk in those who followed it moderately well. In a similar study, people following the MIND diet experienced a substantial slowing of cognitive decline during an average of almost five years.

Some suggestions for improving your diet one choice at a time are:

  • Cut out one junk food, sweet, or fried food daily.
  • Add one fruit or vegetable (or both) daily.
  • Cut out one soft drink daily.
  • Substitute a glass of water for a soft drink.
  • Swap processed meat for fish or unprocessed alternatives.
  • Eat your greens first.
  • Cook at home instead of eating out.
  • Swap refined carb snacks for nuts and seeds.
  • Choose whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta over white.
  • Opt for anything baked over fried.
  • Substitute fruit and berries for a sweet or dessert.
  • Choose healthier fats and avoid trans fat.
  • Drink your coffee black or use stevia instead of sugar and cut out sweetened creamers.

The small, seemingly insignificant choices you make today are shaping the brain you have to live with tomorrow


The choices you make today are building the brain you’re going to have to live with tomorrow. Brain-healthy lifestyle habits will help your brain function better at every stage of your life and lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases, memory problems, brain fog, and age-related decline. You will benefit from supporting and protecting your brain today which will also help to preserve and optimize its health and function in the future.

When you think about it that way, that’s pretty powerful. That is the chance you have to influence and change your health and life now and in the future. And you don’t have to completely overhaul your life or overwhelm yourself with drastic hard-to-keep-up changes. You can improve your brain and mental health and overall health one small choice at a time.

How and where you invest your time IS a choice. Choose wisely.

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  1. So true Debbie. I need to remind myself of this more often, especially at the end of the day when I really do want to plop down on the sofa with a few chips!

  2. Debbie this article is brilliant and motivating. I love how you summed it up here: “The choices you make today are building the brain you’re going to have to live with tomorrow.” THAT is what we all must remember no matter what hurdles we face.
    Thank you!

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