Making Brain Health Habits Automatic

By Daniel Amen, MD

[Excerpted from Change Your Brain Every Day]

Brain health can feel really awkward at first. Every swimmer, dancer, or guitar player remembers how strange it was to start learning new techniques. Most probably
felt like they’d never get it. But with time, their bodies picked up the motions and became proficient, until eventually these new skills were second nature. The brain has a great capacity for growth, but it takes time to grow, establish new neural pathways, and adjust to new movement and new thinking.

The brain has a great capacity for growth, but it takes time to grow, establish new neural pathways, and adjust to new movement and new thinking. Click To Tweet

So it’s no surprise that when you set out to become a brain warrior, you may often feel awkward or overwhelmed. You may wonder, Where’s dessert? What about spaghetti and garlic bread? But I love chips and dip! I have no idea how to make a shopping list and where to find all these new ingredients. I don’t have room to add one more thing to my schedule. I’ve been doing pizza night for 20 years; I can’t quit that now.

Months 1–3: Getting Started with Brain-Health Habits Can Feel Hard

Go easy on yourself. This is just the beginning. You need time to adjust. Trust what you’re learning and be persistent; you will get to the place where these new habits become natural. Often it only takes 30 days if you are a go-getter, or 30 to 90 days if you prefer a slow and steady pace, for your tastes to change and your brain to make new connections. It will get easier.

  • You realize you need to change.
  • Learn your BRIGHT MINDS risk factors.
  • Get lab work to know your baseline health numbers.
  • Start taking basic supplements.
  • Add a few new brain-healthy exercises and sleep habits to your routine.
  • Identify your motivation for becoming healthy.
  • Consider who will benefit from you becoming healthy.
  • Ditch quick-fix thinking for lifestyle longevity.
  • Don’t worry about making mistakes. Expect them and start learning from them.

Months 2-6: Develop a Healthy Rhythm to Brain-Health Habits

Keep going, one step at a time. After the “getting started” stage, people who persist develop a healthy rhythm. Brain-healthy habits start to become second nature. Brain fog clears. You begin making the connections between certain foods and how high or low your energy level is. You get better at recognizing negativity and pausing to assess negative thoughts and loops in your head. Sure, it still requires that you are intentional about your choices because they are not yet habitual. It takes about 1-3 months for the go-getters and 3-6 months for slow-and-steady people to get through this phase of creating healthy rhythms.

This is where your confidence begins to grow.

Once you realize how much illness and poor brain health is around you, you are more committed to brain health for yourself and your loved ones. It becomes easier to ignore or respond to any criticism that comes from people with unhealthy habits.

  • You have your lab values back and are working to optimize them. You attack your BRIGHT MINDS risk factors and are actively taking steps to prevent them.
  • You have found multiple foods you love that love you back.
  • You expand your routines to include practices such as prayer, guided imagery,
  • walking, and standing up to automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). Your routine
  • becomes easier and more defined. You are finding your rhythm.
  • You have started to share this message with friends, coworkers, and loved ones.
  • You finally feel like you can do this as your normal routine rather than for just a
  • few weeks or months.
  • By this point, mistakes will become less and less frequent. Although you will occasionally have a bad day, you quickly get right back on track.

Months 6–12: Brain-Health Habits Become Automatic and Second Nature

Being sick is hard, this is easy. The goal is for your habits to transform from hard
to natural and easy. It usually takes about 4 to 6 months for the go-getters, and
6 to 12 months for those who are slow and steady to reach this phase. The goal is to remain consistent and persistent no matter what challenges arise, such as a job or family changes (which we all have). If you stick with it this long, you will be a brain warrior for life.

In the automatic phase, brain health becomes routine. You think, “No problem; I’ve got this.” You easily do what’s best for your health.

  • Mistakes rarely happen, and when they do, you simply start again. Giving up is not an option.
  • You check your health numbers to see your progress.
  • You love discovering new foods and recipes. You take vitamins and supplements as consistently as brushing your teeth.
  • You immediately feel out of sorts if your health habits get interrupted; your preference is to do what’s best for your body all the time.
  • You want to help your friends and family get healthier.
  • You may have a dessert, but you choose one that supports your health, rather than hurts it.
  • You refuse bread before a meal.
  • You don’t even consider a glass of wine, much less a second one.
  • Workouts are part of your daily routine. You don’t miss them because they are just as important to you as showing up for your child’s recital or a work meeting.
  • You respond positively to brain-healthy choices and shut down brain-harming ones without a second thought.

Today’s Practice: What are 3 ways your life will be better if you get to the automatic phase of brain health habits?

In Change Your Brain Every Day, psychiatrist and clinical neuroscientist Daniel Amen, MD, draws on over 40 years of clinical practice with tens of thousands of patients to give you the most effective daily habits he has seen that can help you improve your brain, master your mind, boost your memory, and make you feel happier, healthier, and more connected to those you love.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of patients at Amen Clinics who have already learned how to change their brain every day and have a better life, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.  


  1. I have been a patient at the Amen Clinic, I did not receive what the above article Talks about. I am still struggling with my brain not working any better. I do not recall any good advice other than walking fast , which I do about 10,000 steps and I am almost 84.

    Comment by Lore Mayo — February 15, 2023 @ 12:04 PM

  2. Thank you.

    Comment by kent stultz — February 25, 2023 @ 9:02 AM

  3. I’ve been trying to taper a benzo and antidepressant after 25 years of Dr prescribed use! Ugh!! I always was given a Flox antibiotic and fluoride treatment both have messed up my brain and cns ANY HOPE! I’m 59 years old

    Comment by Linda — April 29, 2023 @ 2:17 PM

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