‘Remarkable’ is the only word that comes even close to capturing the magnificence and majesty of the human brain. Yet, it manifests as 1400 grams of unremarkable jelly-like consistency comprising mainly water (75%) with small portions of fat (10%) and proteins (8%). It is the source of everything you will ever know, think, feel and believe, an intricate network of neural tissue as populated and complex as our Milky Way galaxy.
Ten tips from emerging neuroscience research.
1. Brain health
The brain, entirely encased in a protective bone structure, is the body’s most important organ. While it takes up only 2% of our body mass, it consumes 20% of your daily energy. It needs attention to work in an optimal fashion, including stable supply of glucose, hydration and rest. Provide water and healthy snacks at meetings and don’t attempt to go more than 90 minutes in any one session.
The latest evolutionary addition to the brain – the prefrontal cortex (PFC) – is where abstract thinking and executive decision making take place. While the PFC is powerful, it is stymied by information overload. Research suggests “seven plus or minus two” – major chunks of factual information at any one time. Develop reports and briefings with this in mind.
3. Use intuition from your limbic system
An older part of the brain, in evolutionary terms, is the paleomammalian brain known as the limbic system. It is a pattern recognition system that functioned long before the advent of words and numbers. It knows things based on experience but cannot explain in the sense of a logical rationale. These patterns, based on experience, provide crucial perspectives for business decision making. Discuss these intuitions as a legitimate part of meetings along with facts and figures.
4. Learn the practice of metacognition
Metacognition is a simple concept which most people tend to overlook when thinking about an issue. In simple terms, metacognition means “thinking about what one is thinking about”. In the middle of an important consideration, train yourself to 1. Stop – step back mentally and 2. Ask yourself, how am thinking about this issue, what assumptions I am making, and what perspectives might I be missing? In other words, learn to test the process of your thoughts as well as attending to their content.
5. Avoid ammygdala hijack
The amygdala is the fear centre in the brain. It is the source of our fight/flight response. At one time, essential for survival, it enabled humans to react, without thinking, to perceived threats. Today, it can create problems in the workplace. A long-established professional reputation can be ruined in an instant when the amygdale hijacks the brain. Things are said that cannot be unsaid. Awareness of this natural propensity is the first step to avoid an amygdala hijack.
6. Take time to reflect
The modern workplace operates ‘24/7’. Amidst emails, tweets, likes and dislikes, there is no time to reflect. Yet, neuroscience indicates that the brain needs time to reflect – to remain mentally still in the moment. In addition to facilitating complex decision-making, the benefits of quiet reflection are many, including physical health, stress reduction and emotional maturity.
7. Changing behaviour
The human brain comprises 100 billion neurons, each with on average 7,000 synaptic connections. Hebe’s law states, “neurons that fire together, wire together”. The more you think a thought, the more powerful it becomes. You cannot change behaviour by thinking the reverse of a dysfunctional thought. (e.g. I will not smoke.) Behaviour is changed by creating a counter thought that will compete for scarce energy (blood/oxygen) in a Darwinistic manner.
Our brain operates using a series of established biases of which we are not aware. These are subconscious patterns developed over time through experience, socialisation and even genetics. Most of these patterns are functional and essential neural shortcuts (you don’t have to think about where to put your toothbrush, when finished) however, some are antagonistic to modern life. One ingrained neural pattern is “in-group/out-group” differentiation. Like it or not, we respond more positively to people like ourselves (e.g. in-group), rather than people who are different from us. It’s a neural propensity to keep in mind and counteract in today’s pluralistic workplace.
9. Use novelty
The conscious part of the brain is stimulated by novelty and is quick to ignore repetitious sensory input. It simply stops paying attention. If you want to hold people’s attention, build novelty into your communication style – not just in wording – but more importantly in tonal and nonverbal signals.
The brain is a dynamic living organ. While it cannot for the most part generate new cells (neural genesis), it can create new connections (neural plasticity). The physiological imperative “use it or lose it” applies as much to the brain as it does to our muscle groups. Many people invest in a gym membership, but how many invest in their brains? Take the time to learn a new skill, instrument, language, or mental puzzle, etc. The brain needs exercise, just as much as your body.
Tips by Jenny McDonald, LDC provider panel member
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