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Each year, through neuroscience, we learn more about the brain and how it works, enabling us to stay focused on our goals, learn faster and make better decisions. This quick read, reproducing an article by Lydia Dishman in a recent Fast Company magazine, will help you understand how brain science can help you perform at your best.

I have added some observations in italics.


1.  How to learn more

Authors Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane used a gardening metaphor to explain how certain brain cells act like a landscaping crew, pruning, weeding, and nurturing synapses so they function better. They lay waste to unused synaptic connections to make room for more learning. So, the authors remind us, it’s important choose your thoughts wisely: the more you think about something, the more you’ll reinforce certain connections, lessening the likelihood that they’ll be pruned.

“If you’re in a fight with someone at work and devote your time to thinking about how to get even with them, and not about that big project, you’re going to wind up a synaptic superstar at revenge plots but a poor innovator.”

Our inbuilt negativity bias, outlined in the work by Rodin and Royzman emphasizes the importance of thinking positively and especially going to sleep thinking positive thoughts.  Perhaps try using Seligman’s suggestion to review “WWW what’s working well”. It is brain science at its best.brain

2.  How to sleep better

All of that gardening happens surreptitiously while we snooze. Sleep, therefore, is one of the main keys to learning. The problem is that we’re likely not getting enough of it. A small but noteworthy recent study showed that getting six hours of sleep can be as bad as staying up all night.

Experts recommend making room for healthy habits at bedtime, such as making sure it’s at the same time each night, keeping the room cool, limiting alcohol before bed, and putting away your devices at least 30 minutes before turning in. Oh, and try to drop excess weight. Obesity has been linked to sleep apnea.

I have started the “smart phone curfew” an hour before I go to bed to “power down” and prepare for a good nights sleep by reading. It’s boring I know, but I’m sleeping better and feeling sharper when I wake up.

3.  How to trust your instinct

Recent studies suggest that trusting your instincts in combination with careful consideration of facts can improve your decision-making. Gut instincts can be really valuable, as long as you keep them in balance.

To better tap into your gut’s decision-making power, Hana Ayoub, a professional development coach, emphasizes the importance of buying yourself some time to reflect.

“Start telling people: ‘I need to sleep on this, I’ll get back to you tomorrow.’ Start building that response into your conversations, especially with the people you work with most,” she advises. They’ll often respect that. “It’s telling people that’s how you work.”

I subscribe to the “sleeping on big decisions” approach. This “circuit breaker” is effective, both in reality and for perception. In reality it means that you can review a potential decision away from the heat of the moment when you are more reasoned and less impulsive. In perception it portrays to the other side that you are logical and objective and are less likely to be swayed by emotion in making a decision. This often means they work harder to provide an informed logical reason or proposition.

4.  How to learn faster

Sometimes the simplest shift can make the most profound difference. So it is with learning. Mastering something that requires motor skills, for example, is easiest when we change up the way we’re moving through the exercise, rather than just repeating it exactly the same way over and over.

Ditto for shifting perspectives. Try “teaching” the thing you want to learn to another person. The act of explaining it to someone else can actually solidify those concepts for you.

I’m certain there’s a balance to be achieved here. I agree it’s important to learn different ways and think about different approaches to solving a problem especially if your “tried and trusted” approach isn’t working. However, there are benefits to using a consistent approach not least of which are that you learn the short cuts and become more proficient and productive.

5.  How to focus better

You already know that learning and remembering takes focus. The problem is that your brain likes to wander. One key to better concentration is to quit multitasking. And while you’re at it, take the information you’re being fed and learn to distill and summarize it. It’s one thing to embrace “monotasking” and another to use the mental energy you save to sharpen those analytical skills in the process.

I definitely agree with this. Switching back and forth between tasks causes your brain to do a lot of work. You have to come back, refocus, and get in the correct mindset. A better approach is to cut out all the distractions you can whilst using time blocks, where you don’t do anything but one task for a period of time.  People with a high score in the Commitment sub scale within the MTQ48 Mental Toughness 4 C’s are able to focus well and achieve goals using such a process.

6.  How to be more creative

You’ve no doubt heard that eureka moments often come when we’re lathering up in the shower—72% of people claim that’s happened to them. However, science also shows that creative breakthroughs can happen just by daydreaming or spending time alone (or both). Solitude seems to be useful, but the circumstances that encourage creative thought during those periods may be more flexible than we think.

I subscribe to the ‘going for a walk’ theory for at least five minutes every hour of you sitting down and working at a desk. It’s a refreshing mental break and the forward momentum of your walk creates some positivity. It is more evidence of brain science that works.

Read Lydia’s full article

Source: Mental Toughness Partners