Are you using your brain to its fullest potential?
According to Dr. Robert Cooper, neuroscientist, high-performance strategist for business and life and author, “We live in a tiny corner of our possibility as human beings. The good news is, the brain doesn’t get it. The brain tends to only compare itself to the best of what’s common, not the best of what’s possible.” So, it is up to each one of us to push ourselves to see what is possible. Meeting your full potential is totally within your control and up to you. You can reach new heights by understanding and hacking into the power already in you, in your head — your brain.
Your Brain Isn’t Wired for the Modern World
The first step in harnessing your brain power is to understand the basics of how your brain does and doesn’t work. Please know that your brain isn’t designed for success in the modern business world — or modern life in general, for that matter. In fact, your brain’s natural tendencies can actually deter your growth and success.
In How Your Brain Can Help You Achieve Your Goals, I write:
“Your brain has innate preferences, called cognitive biases, which subconsciously tilt your thinking and behavior. They are not all bad, but some can actually be ‘demotivators.’ These subconscious biases can make it all too easy to retreat back to the safety of your comfort zone and stay stuck when you are trying to move forward and reach new heights in your life. Understanding how your brain works will help you know what to expect, why it’s happening, and how to push past it.”
Ways to Help Your Brain Move into a Higher Gear
When you know how your brain works, there are things you can do, proven by science, to help it see beyond its natural limitations and biases to reach new heights. With consistent daily habits that encourage and support your brain, you can shift into a higher gear you never even knew was possible. Below are some ways you can encourage and optimize your brain:
- Stay Curious and Open
Brain research is proving, without a doubt, that each of us experiences the world uniquely influenced by our physical brain function, past memories, and experiences as well as present conditions. This is called perceptual bias. In other words, people see what they expect to see and remember what they expect to remember because of their brain’s unique perceptual bias.
One way to elevate your brain to new levels is to stay open and curious. Knowing your brain’s tendency, you can challenge yourself to stay open to different perspectives, ideas, and philosophies. Get in the habit of pulling back and looking at something from a distance, from all angles, consider all of the information available, and train your brain to be able to entertain opposing views at the same time.
- Learn the Power of the Pause
One way to override your brain’s hard-wired default tendencies and maximize its potential is to insert a split-second pause before you react to challenges, setbacks, or opportunities or make decisions. This pause empowers you to take control of your responses, rather than being a slave to the instinctual impulses of your brain.
While consciousness is fast, it’s not instantaneous. Experiments have shown that there was a 200-millisecond delay between becoming aware of an intention and action. This time lag, however brief, is your power of free will. In this pause, you can intentionally shift the part of your brain that’s in control, from your instinctual limbic system to the consciousness of your thinking frontal lobe, and act with wisdom, leadership, and integrity. Guiding your brain activity to come from your higher-level intelligence puts you in control and is essentially the practice of mindfulness.
- Get Morning Sunlight
Our brains operate on a circadian rhythm that tells us to wake up with the sun and go to sleep at dusk. The modern lifestyle breaks this rhythm — and your brain pays the price. The brain’s pineal gland depends directly on sun stimulation. The pineal produces melatonin, an important hormone and antioxidant, that is vital for sleep and intestinal function. Exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s release of serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.
Bright morning light tells your body to suppress melatonin production and increase cortisol production, in healthy amounts, and serotonin. Serotonin can boost your mood and energy throughout the day. And eventually, the pineal gland metabolizes the serotonin into melatonin and that’s what helps you naturally fall asleep at night. On an interesting note, even on a cloudy day, the outdoors delivers considerably more light than even bright indoor lights. So, get outside!
- Start Your Day with a Shower
First, you will want to start out with your normal warm shower. The act of showering causes your brain to release dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical, that puts you into a happy, relaxed state. That’s one reason you have your best ideas in the shower. So, let your mind wander and problem-solve.
After you’ve had a steamy shower, turn the hot water down and let the water run cold for a couple of minutes. Yes, seriously. Taking a cold shower (or any cold water immersion activity) stimulates your vagus nerve. Acute cold exposure has been shown to activate the vagus nerve and cholinergic neurons, capable of producing, altering, and/or releasing acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter of your calming parasympathetic nervous system.
Researchers found that exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can turn down your sympathetic nervous system and the stress response while increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. So, starting your day with a warm shower that ends cold regularly will set your brain up with the right neurochemicals to elevate your mood and help you stay cool and calm all day.
- Change Your Relationship with Fear
Fear isn’t automatically bad. It can be a sign of a rewarding challenge or a growth experience with a desired accomplishment at the end. Think about it. Good things are accompanied by fear too, like a new relationship, or a promotion, or a long-awaited trip. To your brain, fear just means that something is new to it. The feelings of fear and anxiety are really just your amygdala trying to keep you in your comfort zone. But is there really any danger? Or is it just an instinctual physical response?
When you get that anxious, fearful feeling, you need to ask yourself if it’s really warranted or just an instinctual reaction to something challenging, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable. You can use fear and anxiety to fuel and motivate you. One Harvard study showed that, in high-pressure situations, you will shift your mindset and have better outcomes if you say “I’m excited” instead of “I’m anxious.”
- Exercise in the Morning
Exercising any time of the day is better than not exercising, but getting it done in the morning has some brain benefits. Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that morning exercise helps your brain work better all day, even if you are forced to sit for the rest of it. In the study, even a short morning exercise session had profound results.
Everyone who moved in the morning performed better in tests of executive function — which includes things like decision making, paying attention, organizing, planning, and prioritizing — than their completely sedentary peers. The brain benefits are due to an increase in brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which was higher in people who did morning exercise than those who didn’t.
If you can’t or don’t want to exercise in the morning, take walking “brain breaks” throughout your day. Research finds that people who broke up their sitting time with walking breaks got brain boosts.
- Work on Making a Lasting Impression
Most often, your brain only clearly remembers the start and end of events. You may recall some parts of the middle, but not as well — unless something really gets your attention. Experiments show that when participants are presented with a list of words, they tend to remember the first few and last few words and are more likely to forget those in the middle of the list. This is known as the serial position effect.
You can turn this brain bias into an advantage. When meeting someone new socially or giving a presentation, make your most important points at the beginning and the end. Your audience is more likely to remember these points. In case there are multiple presenters, try to be the first or the last presenter.
First impressions and last impressions have a greater impact on reception and recall. When meeting someone for the first time, business or pleasure, make an effort to be at your best. Shoot for wearing an enthusiastic, confident smile with a dash of humility.
You can use one or some of these brain hacks to help boost your brain to new heights in your business or personal life. The bottom line is that what you do every day in your life can help or hurt you in many ways right down to your brain. Why not put your efforts toward helping elevate and expand your brain? Your brain power may be your greatest commodity. Use it well.
This post was first mentioned in the Authoritti5.0 Magazine