Make a List


You know that changing some daily habits can change your risk for cognitive decline and preserve your memory. Yet, it might be hard to identify all the ways in which the habits you already have can hold you back from creating new, brain-boosting habits.

Start by creating a habit list. (You can do this exercise even if you’ve already been implementing new habits, just to check in on how you are doing.)

Tonight, set a notebook beside your bed. In the morning, after you wake up, jot down all the steps you took throughout the day that didn’t require a decision-making process (these are your habits). First, you probably turned off an alarm. Write that down. Did you look at your phone before you climbed out of bed? Did you turn on the TV to watch the news? What order did you get yourself ready for your day? Did you go to the bathroom, then shower, then brush your teeth? Write everything down no matter how unimportant it might seem.

At the end of the day, you may find some sneaky habits in your list that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. In order to see which habits are working for and against your cognitive health, go through your list the day after tomorrow (try to make the list from the time you wake up and go to bed tomorrow).

Review your list, assigning each habit a number. If the habit is brain-boosting, give it a 2. Blueberries and oatmeal for breakfast? That’s a 2! You called a friend and chatted for 15 minutes? Another 2! If the habit is neutral, give it a 1. Taking a shower or making your bed are examples of neutral habits. Habits that work against brain health get a 0. If you ate junk food, give that habit a 0. Other habits like nail biting or driving over the speed limit might not seem like they’re bad for your brain health, but they indicate that you were stressed, so give those types of habits a 0 also.

Now you have a catalogue of your habits and how they might impact your brain health. You don’t have to work on changing them all at once. Instead, just observe for today and use the information to prompt some thinking about what you might work on first.

The goal with brain-boosting habits isn’t perfection, so there’s no ideal score. As you start to implement new habits, tally your score again. Is your number higher this time? If so, your new habits are brain-boosting! Try this exercise every few months to see how your habits add up.