10 BRAIN MUST KNOWS TO LIVE + WORK WITH MORE EASE
"A little neuroscience savvy gives us all power to understand ourselves, manage ourselves and adapt behaviours to work with our brain, not against it."
The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is the part of the brain that drives much of our higher-thinking brain functions such as problem solving, analyzing, prioritizing, distinguishing and reflecting. When we feel overly stressed, this part of the brain "gears down" and lets the stress brain (amygdala) take precedence. No time for reflective thought; it's time for flight or fight!
Too much stress compromises our higher thinking brain's capacity.
Just when we need it most we lose our "thinking ability"! So learn to manage that stress response so you can properly think your way through those "crazy busy" times.
When I'm totally stressed out I take a moment to pause, park and reflect. I write out a list, prioritize and make plans. Turns out thinking activities such as reflecting, prioritizing, planning, not only use the prefrontal cortex, they also stimulate it and bring it back online. So taking just a few moments to get a bit more organized will not only bring our higher thinking brain back online, you will also be rewarded with a dose of GABA, the hormone that brings a feeling of calm. Two orders of that, please!
Our brains love it when we get organized and make plans.
Goldilocks was so finicky. She needed everything just right. Well our brains do too. While too much stress can compromise the prefrontal cortex and "shut down" our brain's capacity for higher functioning, too little stress can do the same. Neuroscientist Amy Arnsten, a professor of neurobiology and psychology at Yale University, says the prefrontal cortex is the "Goldilocks" part of the brain - it needs everything to be "just right" for optimal performance.
Our brains have a sweet spot of optimal stress for their best functioning.
So become aware of your sweet spot. Learn to ramp it up when under-stressed (see here for tips) and how to tame the stress when overloaded (see here for tips on taming your brain).
Our PFC is meant to perform critical thinking activity, but isn't meant to be a storage bin for all of our "to-do's." Yet, all too often, we try to load up our "to-do's" in our head which is a first class ticket to "Mind Full" syndrome.
Our higher thinking brains are not meant to store large loads of information.
I've learned that it is important to get much of my "stuff" out of my head, but keep it appropriately top of mind. So "yay" to structures like lists, plans, etc. Those loads in your brain can be major distractions and prevent you from focusing. Speaking of which, see next point.
Our higher thinking brains love to focus. When we focus, we are rewarded with better thinking, more clarity, a feeling of engagement and sometimes, even a dose of GABA (hormone) which is like antacid for the brain and brings a feeling of calm.
Focus is "candy for the brain" - and the body too.
Unfortunately, we tend not to give ourselves much focus time. Instead we juggle, multitask and exhaust our brains, which are not built for multitasking attention. This can be a major energy drain and compromises productivity, creativity and efficiency. So ditch the multitasking habit. Chunk down your priorities and bring more focus into your day -- even if for only minutes at a time, start small and build up from there. See book excerpt for more on multitasking.
Long ago (1927), Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that people tend to remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. Known as the Zeigarnik effect, this can be a good thing - if you are a waiter and remembering food and drink orders. But not so much if you are dealing with a heavy workload when tasks are never quite finished. The weight of unfinished business can burden us and contribute to the feeling of overwhelm.
Our brains tend to hold on to "unfinished business."
So more proof for the merit of making plans for your unfinished business - e.g., schedule it or put it into a "to-do" list. This will give your brain a feeling of completion for the moment vs. letting it swirl around in your brain with menace - distracting and taunting you as you try to get through it all. This strategy will also help you sleep better at night, another essential for maximizing your "brain-ability."
Positivity is not just a "nice-to-have" attribute. It is truly an essential ingredient for success and well-being. Positivity scientist Barbara Fredrickson coined the term "broaden and build" to capture this notion and years of hard scientific evidence that links positive emotions with better health, improved brain and cognitive function, greater personal efficacy, a heightened ability to connect and an overall boost to one's potential to thrive with more fulfillment and success.
Positivity broadens and builds your brain (and life) capacity.
Learn to rein in the negativity and to boost your positivity. You don't have to be permanently positive (that would not be real), but do aim for a minimum of 3:1 ratio of positive thoughts to negative. Go for the micro moments and get plenty into your daily diet.See here for an article on the positivity advantage.