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7 Types Of Experience Your Brain Needs To Function At Its Best

David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, says that your brain needs to enjoy seven different types of experience in order to function at its best and that ideally youd get to all seven of these in one day. If you want a plant to grow, it needs the right amount of water and nutrients, says Rock. Its obvious when you leave one of those out. With the brain, its a less obvious. The right dietary elements are only one part of this. The basic balanc ed diet that you probably already know is a foundation, but there are other types of inputs that your brain needs that people tend to ignore. And these are essentially exercising different types of circuits in the brain, allowing other circuits to rest and recover. In an ideal day, you would experience each of these seven types: 1. Deep Focus Focusing deeply on a project is one type of thinking. We engage in it most often when we create or work on solving complex problems. While it feels to us like this kind of thinking is helping us get things done, it is actually also giving our brain much needed exercise. Its helpful for creating deep circuits, says Rock and its a healthful and helpful process. 2. Connecting Time This is connecting to anything whether other people or nature or the wider world. We do have a fundamental need to connect to others, says Rock. Being isolated socially is twice as dangerous to yourself as smoking. If youre just working and not mai ntaining a social life, youre probably impacting your health and well-being, not just your mental performance. 3. Down Time Down time is anything non-goal-focused: reading, a mundane task like washing the dishes, or just literally sitting on the couch, zoning out. This is allowing yourself to mind wander and reflect, says Rock. This will allow your brain time to recover, and youll get an added bonus: Youre allowing space for your unconscious connections to come to the surface, to solve complex problems, he s ays. 4. Time In Time in can include journaling, reflecting on deep thoughts with a loved one, doing a meditation or anything that enables deep thinking. Time in allows your brain to, in a sense, reorganize itself through reflection, says Rock. Its different from down time, which is very inactive. With time in, youre thinking about your thinking, youre mindful and connecting your brain in deeper ways. Its th e kind of practice that allows you to reflect on your thoughts. 5. Play Time Enjoy a few good laughs with your close friends, watch The Daily Show or attend a comedy night in your town, read The Onion, or play with a child. This is all about novelty, the unexpected and fun, allowing new novel connections to form, says Rock. 6. Physical Time Your brain benefits tremendously from physical activity, particularly aerobic activity. A recent study showed people were 23% more effective on days they exercised, says Rock. When we exercise, were oxygenating the brain and helping to flush out toxins, but were

also activating regions of the brain intensely that dont get activated otherwise, and this allows other functions to rest an d helps with the overall coherence of the brain. Theres increasing evidence that thinking is very closely connected to movement, and it seems y ou can improve the quality of thinking by improving your effectiveness at physical activities, and its not just an aerobic bene fit. 7. Sleep Its not just rest, says Rock. Its an active process of reorganizing your brain, strengthening and reorganizing connectio ns. Losing a good nights sleep you have repercussions for many days, not just the one. Sleep is also helpful for crea tivity, coming up with insights, it helps to extract the gist from a lot of complexity.

5 Powerful Exercises To Increase Your Mental Strength


The following guest post is by Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker in Lincoln, Maine. In addition to working as a psychotherapist, she is also an adjunct college psychology instructor and she serves as About.coms Parenting Teens expert.

Psychology often discusses mental health but whats not often discussed is a clear definition of mental strength. To me, mental strength means that you regulate your emotions, manage your thoughts, and behave in a positive manner, despite your circumstances. Developing mental strength is about finding the courage to live according to your values and being bold enough to create your own definition of success. Mental strength involves more than just willpower; it requires hard work and commitment. Its about establ ishing healthy habits and choosing to devote your time and energy to self-improvement. (Check out Cheryl Snapp Connors post, based on my list of the 13 things mentally strong people avoid.) Although its easier to feel mentally strong when life seems simple often, true mental strength becomes most apparent in the midst of tragedy. Choosing to develop skills that increase your mental s trength is the best way to prepare for lifes inevitable obstacles. Many exercises exist that can help you develop mental strength. But here are five that can get you started: 1. Evaluate Your Core Beliefs Weve all developed core beliefs about ourselves, our lives and the world in general. Core beliefs develop over time and largely depend upon our past experiences. Whether youre aware of your core beliefs or not, they influence your thoughts, your behavior and emotions. Sometimes, core beliefs are inaccurate and unproductive. For example, if you believe that youll never succeed in life, you may be less apt to apply for new jobs and inadvertently, you may not present yourself well on job interviews. Therefore, your core beliefs may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Identify and evaluate your core beliefs. Look for beliefs that are black and white, and then find exceptions to the rule. Very few things in life are always or never true. Modifying core beliefs requires purposeful intention and hard work, but it can change the entire course of your life. 2. Expend Your Mental Energy Wisely Wasting brain power ruminating about things you cant control drains mental energy quickly. The more you think about negative

problems that you cant solve, the less energy youll have leftover for creative endeavors. For example, sitting and worrying about the weather forecast isnt helpful. If a major storm is headed your way, worrying about it wont prevent it. You can, however, ch oose to prepare for it. Focus on what is only within your control. Save your mental energy for productive tasks, such as solving problems or setting goals.When your thoughts arent productive, make a conscious effort to shift your mental energy to more helpful topics. The more you practice expending your mental energy wisely, the more it will become a habit. 3. Replace Negative Thoughts with Productive Thoughts Although most of us dont spend time thinking about our thoughts, increasing your awareness of your thinking habits proves us eful in building resilience. Exaggerated, negative thoughts, such as, I cant ever do anything right, hold you back from reaching you r full potential. Catch your negative thoughts before they spiral out of control and influence your behavior. Identify and replace overly negative thoughts with thoughts that are more productive. Productive thoughts dont need to be extremely positive, but should be realistic. A more balanced thought may be, I have some weaknesses, but I also have plenty of strengths. Changing your thoughts requires constant monitoring, but the process can be instrumental in helping you become your best self. 4. Practice Tolerating Discomfort Being mentally strong doesnt mean you dont experience emotions. In fact, mental strength requires you to be come acutely aware of your emotions so you can make the best choice about how to respond. Mental strength is about accepting your feelings without being controlled by them. Mental strength also involves an understanding of when it makes sense to behave contrary to your emotions. For example, if you experience anxiety that prevents you from trying new things or accepting new opportunities, try stepping out of your comfort zone if you want to continue to challenge yourself. Tolerating uncomfortable emotions takes practice, but it becomes easier as your confidence grows. Practice behaving like the person youd like to become. Instead of saying, I wish I could be more outgoing, choose to behav e in a more outgoing manner, whether you feel like it or not. Some discomfort is often necessary for greater gain, and tolerating that discomfort will help make your vision a reality, one small step at a time. 5. Reflect on Your Progress Daily Todays busy world doesnt lend itself to making much time available for quiet reflection. Create time to reflect upon your progress toward developing mental strength. At the end of each day, ask yourself what youve learned about your thoughts, emotions and behavior. Consider what you hope to improve upon or accomplish tomorrow. Developing mental strength is a work in progress. There is always room for improvement, and at times this will seem more difficult than at other times. Reflecting upon your progress can reinforce your ability to reach your definition of success while living according to your values.

How To Perform At Your Peak Every Day: 10 Tips For Working Smarter In 2014

Its a common scenario for many of us. You start the day with an idea of what you want to work on and accomplish by noon. But when you check your email in the morning, a number of other demands crowd in, instant messages begin popping up like a game of whack-a-mole, and people start dropping by for a quick question that will only take a sec. Suddenly, you realize an hour has vanished into meeting other peoples needs while your project has gone untouched. How do people ever get anything done nowadays? At the start of the new year, you may be looking atmaking 2014 even better than last year or eyeing a promotion, raise or new job. If so, drop the idea of doing more, and instead focus on working smarter. The key? Think about your thinking. David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, says, Its really easy to follow every train of thought and every email that comes along and get lost in every conversation. The most effective people are aware of their mental approach to every interaction. For example, he says, people who think about their thinking apply the best possible thinking strategy should you be detailed in this meeting, should you be much more strategic, should you be more collaborative and allow other people to engage? Here are his tips to help you manage email, be creative, handle meetings, manage your emotions and more. 1. Dont check your email first thing. Its been said before but so few people follow this rule, it bears repeating. Decision-making is an energy-hungry task, and our tanks are full in the morning. For that reason, the way you start your day is crucial. Unless youre in the emergency services field, or the matter of an hour is really critical, the best rule for email is dont check it first unless your job is literally checking and responding to emails, says Rock. As soon as you download your emails, your brain gets overwhelmed with information and ideas, and your personal objectives and goals start to slip out the window. Leave it as late as possible in the day, so you can get your own work done. He advises you leave your emails to early afternoon, if you can. And when you do tackle email, write your own sparingly. Use emails to share information, to schedule, but never use emails to discuss complex issues or give any kind of feedback, particularly negative feedback, says Rock. When you notice yourself writing an email longer than one screen, its time to pick up the phone. You can save countless hours with that one rule, he says. 2. Make your first task of the day prioritizing your top three goals. Because of the number of outside demands in our lives can be so overwhelming, its important to know how to prioritize them. There are so many potential distractions and detailers that can take our attention, we need to be really clear about the most important things. As a rule of thumb, you can remember three ideas relatively well, says Rock. For that reason, you should limit yourself to t hree goals for the year, for the quarter. With four, five or six goals, youre less likely to be able to unconsciously scan the environment for opportunities and threats relevant to those goals. When you do finally check your email, remind yourself of those goals beforehand.

3. Conserve your decision-making energy at every opportunity. Your ability to make great decisions is a limited resource, writes Rock in Your Brain at Work. For that reason, it is essential to learn to say no to tasks not among your priorities. This means not thinking when you dont have to, becoming disciplined about not paying attention to non-urgent tasks unless, or until, its truly essential that you do, he writes. For instance, turn off your smartphone during

a meeting instead of idly checking it to see what emails have come in save it for later, when you know youll be able to respond. Additionally, dont expend energy thinking about a project until you have all the information you need. And delegate. 4. Find and protect your quality thinking time. In his work, Rock has asked many people how much quality thinking time, which he defines as time when youre able to focus de eply and achieve what you set out to achieve in the time you expect, they get in a week. The number continues to decrease as I a sk people. Its not 20 or 10 or even 5 hours. For a lot of people its a couple hours a week, if that. The culprit he says is our connected world. The solution: Find the ideal window in your week when you can carve out focus ti me to do what I call level three thinking, deeper problem solving and writing and creative work. For everyone, this will be individual, but Rock says that generally, the best time is early in the day and early in the week Monday, Tuesday, maybe Wednesday morning. During this time, turn off all distractions email alerts, your phone ringer, etc. 5. Reserve meetings for your low-focus time. As you find the time when your brain is most able to do level three thinking, you may also identify times when your energy ebbs. That could be the best time for you to have meetings, when you dont necessarily have to be at your peak, says Rock. (Positive psychology researcher Shawn Achor also says that our energy wanes as sugar levels drop, so, for some people, the period after meals could also be a good time to reserve for more complex thinking.) 6. Dont waste precious energy multitasking. Single-task as much as you can. Our brains can only do one conscious thing at a time, and switching between tasks not only wastes energy, but multitasking can leads to decreased performance and more mistakes. And, it saves no time at all. Multitasking between two activities takes the same amount of time as it does to do them one at a time. If you have two things that need to get done as soon as possible and as accurately as possible, do one first and then the other. 7. At the beginning of each meeting, decide where you want to be by the end and the most effective effective way to get there. Conversations tend to expand to fill the time available, says Rock, and its really helpful to spend a minute or two upfro nt with every meeting asking a simple important question: where do we want to be at the end of this meeting, and whats the most effective way to get there? In a meeting, there are five types of thinking you can do, which Rock describes as vision, planning, detail, problem and drama. We dont do a lot of vision thinking even in an average meeting, says Rock. We dont say, Why are we doing this? What are we trying to achieve? Where are we trying to get to? But its very important to have that vision thinking done, not just to motivate thin king and allow creativity but to guid e the next processes. Planning and detail thinking are both about how to implement your vision, with planning being more abstract, and detail bei ng more specific, but these kinds of thinking can only be done once the vision is set. This kind of how thinking is very difficult if you dont have a very clear what, says Rock. Most meetings start with detail, and then its easy to devolve into problem and drama, says Rock. So start with vision as m uch as you can, even if just two or three minutes, and work out a clear plan for the meeting itself, and do all that before you start getting into details. 8. Learn to maintain a positive state of mind.

Learn to stay in a toward state or a positive mindset. The brain classifies everything as threat or rewar d were always staying away from threat or moving toward reward. Its fine to put out fires and do busy work thats solving problems, but we generally do better thinking when were creative and collaborate better when were in a more positive state and m oving toward something, toward a goal, and minimizing stress and threat responses, says Rock. For instance, he says, your brain is in a toward state when you recei ve an email from a friend, but if you get a negative email from your boss about something th ats gone badly, youll be in a threat state. To stay in a toward state, identify how you feel, says Rock. Studies show that putting words on your emotions helps you redu ce those emotions. Then, reinterpret events. If a tough project comes your way, and you become anxious, dont think about this as a potential threat but as an opportunity to show people what youre made of. As you change your interpretation, you change your whole mental state, s ays Rock. 9. Carve out down time. Its really helpful to allow your brain to rest, says Rock. Have some down time and youll find youll get a lot more insights into your mind. Switch off your devices when youre in transit. Dont turn your devices on first thing in the morning and have regular blocks of time where your brain is just resting. Youll find a lot more insights coming through. And sometimes, the rest should be literal. Napping has been shown to be very helpful for creativity, says Rock. A 10 -20 minute nap in the afternoon when youre low is helpful for being more creative and more productive for the rest of the day. Studies show if you had a bad nights sleep, having a nap like that can get you almost back to the level you need the level you would have if you had slept well. 10. Celebrate small wins. We all are so busy and our minds so problem-focused, we tend to rush from one thing to the next and miss the progress we are making. Yet a sense of progress has been shown to be one of the most rewarding and engaging experiences at work, says Rock. Take time out regularly weekly or monthly is ideal to celebrate the wins and the progress you have made on your goals. Positive emotions are helpful on many levels, including improving immune function and making us more creative. One tip: Make a good things jar and whenever you have something to celebrate, write about it on a slip of paper and put it in the jar, to read them all at the end of the year.