Ten things to do with your brain today - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Ten things to do with your brain today

Chris Whipp puts forward 10 ‘easy’ things to do to avoid bottlenecks in our brains and to improve the way they function and stresses the importance a maintaining a positive state of mind

THIS article is inspired by an
article written by renowned
Australian neuroscientist, David
Rock. David is the author of
Your
brain at work
and one of a small
band of neuroscientists making
the advances in brain research of
the last 15 years more accessible.

He is a director of the
Neuroscience Institute in Australia for
whom I have been assessing PGC
students on their “Neuroscience of
Leadership” course for about five
years.

Whilst amazingly complex, our
brains have some significant
bottlenecks
from a functioning
perspective;
we can pay
attention only
to a quite
limited
number of
things at one
time, we can’t multitask in a true
sense and severe depletions to energy
reserves frequently impair us.

Here are 10 easy things to do to
improve the environment and way
your brain functions. Most are
counterintuitive and most you may
instinctively reject or avoid because
our natural habits of thinking and
doing often push us in the opposite
direction of what we really need to be
doing.

1. Don’t check your e-mails
first thing in the morning

E-mail’s are one of the most
ubiquitous drivers of computer habits
and it can be difficult not to jump
into your e-mails at the start of the
day. From a neuroscientific
perspective this is one of the worst
things you can do.

Your brain is rested, clear and the
energy tank is full: this is the time of
day to get your brain working on
demanding, complex or creative tasks.
Instead, we overwhelm our brains
with a deluge of largely irrelevant/unimportant e-mails that
taxes our brain, reducing our
decision-making capacity and energy
reserves.

When you do address your e-
mails, the advice is to be critical of
what you read and engage with, write
sparingly and generally don’t discuss
complex issues or give feedback
(particularly negative).

2. Prioritise your day to just
three tasks

Following on from the above, making
your first task of your day prioritising
your day whilst your brain is fresh, active and fully fuelled is logical.
What might surprise you is that most
of us cannot cope with more than
perhaps three or four threads of
thought, so the guide is to identify
and engage with just three important
objectives for the day.

As soon as you go beyond this,
distractions and derailers interfere and
we lose both conscious and
unconscious focus.

3. Conserve your decision-making energy at every
opportunity

Our brains rapidly become fatigued
and our decision-making energy
should be protected wherever
possible.

Focusing on identified priorities
and saying no to other issues is as
important as delegating, not thinking
about non-urgent tasks until you
really need to and actively avoiding
internet distractions such as e-mail,
Facebook, Twitter and the like.

4. Find and protect your
quality thinking time

Having talked to a lot of people,
David has come to the conclusion
that for many people our always on
24/7 world means that quality
thinking time is severely limited,
maybe little more than two hours per
week.

For a species whose success is
founded on cognitive abilities, this
poses a serious threat.

The answer is to carve out quality
thinking time and protect it
vigorously. Producing and using
quality time can be the biggest single
driver to performance and results.

Scheduling this time
early in the day and
in the first half of
the week also helps
as does turning
off/avoiding all
distractions.

5. Reserve
meetings for
your low-focus
time

As part of
protecting your
quality thinking time you should
identify when your brain is at its best.

Unless the subject is high stakes,
there is a logic for arranging meetings
for times when your energy might be
on the ebb. Many meetings have
limited productivity associated with
them so, whilst counterintuitive, it
may make sense to book meetings for
low energy times.

6. At the beginning of a
meeting, decide where you
want to be by the end and
how to get there

Most meetings start with detail, then
rapidly devolve into problems and
drama. In the absence of a clear
vision of where the meeting needs to
go, direction is lost, complexity
overwhelms and conversation expands
to fill the time
available, whether it is
productive or not.

Taking a few
minutes before the
meeting to identify
clearly where you want
to be at the end and
how to get there most
efficiently can have a
profound effect on
meeting productivity.

7. Don’t waste precious
energy trying to multitask

Contrary to what your instincts might
tell you, our brains can only do one
conscious thing at a time.

We can develop some expertise at
switching between tasks but there is
always a cost involved and
multitasking leads to reduced
performance, more mistakes and
wasted energy.

Also, it doesn’t actually save any
time. One touch, focused single-task
work is more efficient and does not
deplete the brain’s reserves to as great
an extent.

8. Learn to maintain a
positive state of mind

At its simplest, the brain defines
everything as either a threat or a reward: without conscious thought we
naturally move into a “toward state”
or an “away state”, seeking more or
less exposure as appropriate.

The reptilian part of our brain,
which is concerned with survival,
tends to be dominant which is why
modern life can sometimes seem so
challenging.

Becoming aware of and managing
our mental state enables us to
respond differently and the aim is to
rebalance towards the “toward state”
which offers positive opportunities.

9. Ensure down time

In evolutionary terms, the higher
centres of the brain are relatively
young, have high energy requirements
and are very sensitive to the depletion of those energy
resources.

Limiting your
contact with technology and
particularly internet-
driven services is
important as are
simple things like
good diet and sleep.

Simply doing
something different
and taking time out helps. Don’t be tempted to believe
you can work at high pressures
without paying a price; protecting
down time enhances both
productivity and creativity.

10. Celebrate small wins

Vets are both by nature and training
excellent problem solvers. The flip
side is that we often are so motivated
to move onto the next problem that
we lose sight of the value of the
solutions we have already created.

We then focus so intently on
problems that this becomes all we see,
which carries a serious wellbeing
price. Maintaining a positive state of
mind is important, so recognising and
celebrating our small successes are
essential.
n If you would like to know more
about the subject, contact
chris.whipp@vetlearning.co.uk.

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