The daily habits that keep Richard Branson healthy and happy
It’s widely known that legendary entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is a zealous advocate for the benefits of daily exercise. When asked his top tip for productivity, he always replies: “work out.” The Virgin Group founder takes time to get active no matter how busy he is, and believes that rather than denting his schedule, exercise enables him to power through an extra four hours of work a day.
Dig a little deeper though, and you’ll find another key secret to Sir Richard’s success: mental muscle building. The Virgin boss challenges himself to try something new each day, and encourages his team members to do the same.
“We should all pick up new skills, ideas, viewpoints and ways of working every day,” he’s said. “The day you stop learning is the day you stop living.”
There’s great truth in that motto. Along with fellow high achievers Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, both known for their inquiring minds, Sir Richard understands that the human brain needs an endless diet of new information to survive and thrive.
Neuroscientists have a stack of evidence to show that brain fitness is crucial to peak performance and needs to be nurtured as carefully as your physical health. The brain benefits from being constantly pushed out of its comfort zone and, just as muscles can be strengthened, your grey matter can bulk up, too.
The human brain has neuroplasticity – the ability to build new pathways. Throughout life you can rewire, modify and grow your grey matter by building these new neural pathways through new experiences and activities. Each new skill increases the grey cells in the areas associated with it – so the more new and varied challenges you throw at your brain, the more power it will pack.
Dr Jenny Brockis, healthy brain advocate and author of three books, Brain Fit!, Brain Smart and Future Brain, recommends anyone seeking to optimise their workplace performance and overall wellness should treat their brain to new experiences daily.
“Brains love new stuff,” she says. “Just observe the way little kids suck up new information every day and how their abilities grow. No matter our age, we should always engage with new ideas, skills, people, places.”
Not only will this increase your productivity, says Dr Brockis, it might also extend your life. “One of the characteristics observed in people with greater longevity is that they have continued to learn and do new things at every age. We have this wonderful plastic brain that can stretch and adapt, and if we adopt that principle of always looking for something new to stimulate it, the benefits are huge.”
Your new challenges could be as small as reading a different book or webpage, or as large as embarking on learning a new musical instrument or language. “Allow yourself to explore, wander, go down a rabbit hole,” says Dr Brockis.
Sir Richard agrees. “See where it takes you, and what you can learn,” he’s written. “I see life almost like one long university education that I never had – every day I'm learning something new.”