Dr. Tara Swart: How to Optimize for Peak Brain Performance – What Got You There with Sean DeLaney

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Key Takeaways

  • Create an action board (AKA a vision board) and take the time to read it over every night
  • Try as best you can to reduce the number of decisions you’re faced with daily. Here’s a metaphor:
    • When you wake up after a full night’s sleep, it’s as if you have a full glass of water at your disposal (this glass of water is equivalent to your ability to think and make decisions for the rest of the day)
    • Every time you make a decision, no matter how small, it’s like you’re taking a sip from the glass
      • “With every single decision you make and the more choices you have to choose between, the more you drain your bucket of cognitive resources” – Tara Swart
  • Eat as many brain-friendly foods as possible:
    • Fatty fish – salmon and mackerel
    • Healthy oils – avocado oil, olive oil, and coconut oil
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Eggs
    • Leafy greens
    • “Avocados are the ultimate brain food” – Tara Swart
  • Do “The People Tree” Exercise:
    • Draw a tree with 5 branches
    • Then, write the names of the 5 people you spend the most time with (or those who influence you most) on each branch
    • Next, draw 5 more branches off of each individual branch and write down the 5 words that come to mind when you think of each person 
    • Lastly: “Take a deep breath, look at the 25 words in isolation, and meditate on them until you accept that all of those 25 words describe you” – Tara Swart
  • Visualization is a powerful performance-enhancement tool
  • “Doing whatever you can to cultivate high levels of self-belief is the single factor that sets apart successful people from those who don’t quite reach their full potential” – Tara Swart

Intro

Tara’s Morning Routine

  • Tara’s a late riser – “I’m obsessed with sleep”
    • Every night, she aims for a solid 8 hours
    • “My bedroom or any hotel room that I stay in is sort of a dark cave as soundless as possible” – Tara Swart
    • If Tara wakes up in the middle of the night, she’ll take the opportunity to turn herself onto her left or right side
      • Why? – Your brain is most effective at cleaning away debris in these positions
  • Tara starts every day with a matcha green tea mixed with coconut oil
  • She never eats breakfast and practices time-restricted eating (her eating window is between 12-8 PM)

Tara’s Nighttime Routine

  • The hour before bed is key – this is when the pineal gland releases melatonin (the hormone that signals to your body that’s it’s time for sleep)
    • For this reason, she tries to avoid blue light during this hour (all of her devices are set to night mode)
    • She’ll also occasionally wear blue light blocking glasses (use the code “PodcastNotes10” for 10% off at checkout on a pair of True Dark glasses. PodcastNotes has tested 3 brands and these are the best–both for comfort, quality, and efficacy. We like the Twilights.)
  • When traveling:
    • Tara will diffuse certain aromas (lavender or jasmine) to help her relax
    • If she needs to, she’ll also wear an eye mask
  • Tara sleeps with socks every night
    • Science shows that keeping your extremities warm reduces the time it takes you to fall asleep (Dr. Matthew Walker talked more about this in these Podcast Notes)
  • Right before bed, Tara will look at her vision board
    • Why? – Looking at a vision or action board before bed primes your brain to prioritize action items the following day as well as subconsciously process items overnight
  • Lastly, every night before bed, Tara and her husband chat about what’s on their minds specifically focused on what’s happening for them at work
    • They’ll then exchange advice=

How to Calm Down Before Bed

  • Sean avoids reading any self-help or business books before bed as they tend to stimulate his mind and make it harder for him to fall asleep
  • Try Yoga Nidra (AKA psychic sleep), a form of meditation designed to help you fall asleep
    • “This is a really effective technique for winding down, for helping to relax your body and mind, and for helping you drift into that good, quality sleep we all need” – Tara Swart

The Clothes You Wear Matter More Than You Think

  • “A really important thing that triggers your brain, in regards to the mode you have to be in for different meetings, is what you’re wearing” – Tara Swart
    • For example – If you work from home, staying in your pajamas all day isn’t optimal for peak mental performance
    • Every night, Tara chooses her planned outfit for the next day by checking her calendar and seeing which meeting is the most important in terms of being appropriately dressed
    • On a more general level: “Everything that you do sends a signal to your brain about what mode you’re in” – Tara Swart

Choice Reduction | Reducing Decision Fatigue

  • Try to reduce the number of decisions you make in a day
    • Tara gives a metaphor:
      • When you wake up after a full night’s sleep, it’s as if you have a full glass of water at your disposal (this glass of water equivalent to your ability to think and make decisions for the rest of the day)
      • Every time you make a decision, no matter how small, it’s like you’re taking a sip from the glass
        • “With every single decision you make and the more choices you have to choose between, the more you drain your bucket of cognitive resources” – Tara Swart
      • To add – If you’re stressed, it’s like the glass has a little crack which causes it to leak water
    • Methods to reduce decision fatigue:
      • Wear the same thing every single day
      • Choose what you’re going to wear the next day the night before
      • Decide what you’re going to have for breakfast the night before

Eating for Brain Health

  • The brain makes up a tiny percentage of our total body weight but uses 20-30% of our food breakdown products
  • Eat as many brain-friendly foods as possible
    • Fatty fish – salmon and mackerel
    • Healthy oils – avocado oil, olive oil, and coconut oil
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Eggs
    • Leafy greens
    • “Avocados are the ultimate brain food” – Tara Swart
  • As mentioned, Tara adds a spoonful of coconut oil to her tea every morning
    • Why? – The medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are readily taken up as fuel by the brain
  • STAY HYDRATED
    • Just like you’d never drive your car to work without gas, you should never go to work without having had a few glasses of water (yet so many people do)
  • “We treat our biggest asset, our brain, worse than we treat our cars” – Tara Swart

Beyond the Basics

  • Assuming you’ve covered the foundations of getting good sleep, eating healthy, and staying active…
    • Time-restricted eating can serve as an additional brain boost 
      • Tara only eats in the window of 12-8 PM
      • Even reducing your window to 12 hours will serve you well
    • Restricting calories (500 for women, 600 for women) on 2 non-consecutive days of the week has brain benefits
    • A 24-hour water-only fast once a month has longevity benefits

What advice would Tara give her younger self?

  • Surround yourself with positive supporters
    • “A really big thing I see looking back is how the closet people to me were so positive and supportive. I remember now, friends saying, ‘We know you can do anything you put your mind to.'” – Tara Swart
  • Make sure you’re eating healthy, getting good sleep, meditating, and exercising
  • “Continually learn new things and push yourself through your comfort zone. It just unleashes so much more than you think you’re capable of.” – Tara Swart
    • You are capable of so much more than you allow yourself to believe

The People Tree Exercise

  • This exercise originates from Tara’s book
    • Draw a tree with 5 branches
    • Then, write the names of the 5 people you spend the most time with (or those who influence you most) on each branch
      • Tara advises you leave your children off this list
    • Next, draw 5 more branches off of each individual branch and write down the 5 words that come to mind when you think of each person 
      • Note – each word doesn’t have to be positive
    • Lastly – “Take a deep breath, look at the 25 words in isolation, and meditate on them until you accept that all of those 25 words describe you” – Tara Swart
  • Science has shown you’re the sum of the people of the 5 people you spend the most time with
    • An easy example – If you have a close friend who gets divorced, your chances of divorce increase the following year

The Source

  • This is Tara’s first book she hasn’t co-written
    • It’s already a bestseller in the UK and it’s launching in the U.S. on October 15th
    • Sean highly recommends it
  • “If you think about what’s going on in the world… I think both science and spirituality may hold answers for people who are feeling very lost. As I was writing the book, although it was very hard, I realized it was very timely and this hard work was absolutely going to be worth it.” – Tara Swart
  • Tara’s writing process
    • She wrote the majority of the book on weekends while managing an intense travel schedule
      • Tara and her family live in London during the week and in the UK countryside on the weekends 
      • She’s would write the for the vast majority of Friday-Sundays with small breaks sandwiched in between
        • She stopped for the day ~6-7 PM
    • “I had to be SO disciplined” – Tara Swart
      • Tara didn’t allow for any meetings/phone calls to be scheduled during her planned writing time
    • At the end of the day, the completed book was the result of a TON of hard, focused work

How Visualization Aids Elite Performance

  • “All the most successful athletes that I’ve ever interacted with have a strong visualization process” – Tara Swart
  • Before someone ran a 4-minute mile for the first time, everyone thought it to was impossible
    • But as soon as Roger Bannister broke the barrier, 7 more people did the same over the next 2-3 months – THAT’S visualization
  • Novelty tends to be threatening to the brain
    • “For any event, high stakes meeting, or speaking engagement, if you visualize the entire thing from beginning to end going successfully and you keep repeating it in your mind, when you actually come to the event, to your brain it’s not as threatening as something completely new” – Tara Swart
      • The more you can convince the brain that the event is something you’ve at least partially experienced before, the lower your stress response will bee 
  • Tara recalls a study:
    • People in their 80s were split into 3 groups
      • One group served as the control
      • One group was told to reminisce on what it was like to live in their 60s
      • One group was moved, for one week, into homes that looked like homes did ~20 years ago (multiple photos of each individual when they were in their 60s were also placed around the house)
    • “The changes in visual acuity and musculoskeletal coordination in the reminiscing group, but much more so in the third group, were astounding” – Tara Swart
  • In summary: “If you can see something clearly in your mind, it can prepare you for an event and also change your body, change your whole mindset, and therefore change real-world outcomes” – Tara Swart

Commonalities Among High-performers

  • “The one thing I notice more than anything with my really successful clients is their level of self-belief” – Tara Swart
    • Tara adds – “You CAN change the narrative that you have in your head about your self-belief. That is probably the single most important thing for people to work on.”
      • “Doing whatever you can to cultivate high levels of self-belief is the single factor that sets apart successful people from those who don’t quite reach their full potential”
    • Act it until you are (NOT fake it until you make it)

How to Move Our Subconscious to Our Conscious

  • Sean recalls a quote Tara included in her book from Carl Jung – “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”
  • Do the exercises in Tara’s book!

Wrapping Up

  • Do the people tree exercise! 
    • Focus on the strengths and try to demonstrate those strengths in the real world as much as possible
  • Create a vision board (Tara calls it an action board)
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