Do you know how our brain works? if not, then it’s a major drawback when it comes to business. Cognitive literacy helps us to understand why we behave in certain ways along with other’s behavior. Here’s a brief outlook about how our brain works and how to use that knowledge to practical use from John Medina’s bestselling book “Brain Rules”.
Without much ado, here are the key takeaways from the book:
1. Like any other system, our brains also need a proper diet, exercise, rest, and sleep
Our mind and body aren’t any different entities. Our brain is a system that has requirements, that shouldn’t be dodged like exercise, rest, and sleep for our mind to deliver optimal performance. This has been proved via a lot of experiments for ages.
2. Every individual’s brain development is different, based on their experiences and the environment they dwell in.
Our brain is malleable, most neuroscientists often term this as “plasticity.” The structure of our brain keeps changing as our experiences & environment change. This continues until the end of our lives.
Since these experiences vary based on different environments & experiences over a lifetime, each individual ends up with a unique brain that processes information in its own way. Though there are many similarities, there is nothing like a “standard” brain.
3. A brain is a survival tool that pays more attention to threats and opportunities using emotions and actions.
During our evolution, many years ago our environment was full of threats like predators, dangerous animals, enemy tribes & other similar elements. In order to survive, our ancestors had to utilize available opportunities to live long enough and to reproduce. Thus, our brains are designed to protect us. Though the modern environment is very different, the opportunities are enough & life threats are scarce.
The survival instinct remains the same & the fact is that most of us are trying to run ancient software on modern hardware i.e our brain, that constantly overlooks the opportunities by covering them with magnified threats. That’s why we often seem to do so many irrational and inefficient things. Check out this video by us to understand such behavior.
4. Multitasking is a myth
Our brain can only focus on one thing at a time!
Let’s relate attention to the flashlight beam which can never be flashed on two separate objects simultaneously. However, you can rapidly switch the beam to and fro among them. Paying attention to more than one task simultaneously is beyond the human mind’s capability.
When multitasking, all you are doing is switching your attention to and fro the tasks you are trying to focus on. With every such switch, you lose productivity, as your brain takes time to re-load information about the task you are focusing on. So, multitasking is a productivity killer.
For best outcomes, focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking may feel more productive, but it’s just a feeling which is quite misleading.
5. Context, Emotion, & Repetition can help amalgamate and store patterns as memories in our brain.
Unlike computer harddisk, our brain stores memories as patterns once recognized in the world. The key to remember such memories is that it’s contextual & stored in a huge network of associations, used by our brain to quickly recall patterns.
Emotion and repetition help amalgamate memories as they are important indicators. Emotions like excitement, fright, depression, or anger are stored more quickly as they are very important ancestral survival instincts. Repetition indicates the commonality of the pattern in a particular environment, which also indicates that it’s important in one way or the other.
If you wonder why beer ads feature more of women in bikini and confident men, the prime time news is frightening or sometimes depressing, or why people care what brand of sports shoes do Virat Kohli prefers, remember that memory is retrieved via context and association.
6. Our brains associate long-term memories with sensory data to mentally simulate potential actions beforehand.
Our brain often helps us to predict our action’s consequences. Mental Simulation enables us to work out the results of our actions before we act to keeps us away from troubles. As discussed in the previous point, our brain is always in Pattern Matching mode, saving the outcomes in memory.
When we’re trying to figure out our possible actions in any given situation, our brain depends on the stored patterns in memory to figure out what to do. Together with the perceptions, these memories help us judge what to do next when our actions are unknown.
7. Stress and tiredness dramatically affect our brain’s ability to function
Our body is built to handle stress, but not for long. During the ancestral times, sudden threats were imminent but brief. (Either the lion caught and ate you, or you dodged it within a few minutes.)
Though, the stresses are comparatively less acute now but may be chronic. You can be afraid of losing your job or depressed due to a certain financial burden for years. Our body is not designed to handle stress for such a long period. The hormones involved (cortisol, DHEA, adrenaline, etc) if present in our systems can have serious impacts on our body and brain.
During stress, our mind functions at a much lower capacity, reducing our ability to think and take proper decisions. So, in such cases, you need to change your environment to get rid of such stressors ASAP. Exercise and meditation can be the best form to control the same.
8. Capturing attention
To capture attention one needs to constantly provide new inputs in as many sensory ways as possible.
Our minds always pay attention to stimuli sensed through our sense organs. Media like TV, movies, video games, and the Internet are rapidly changing, always providing new content & concept to pay attention to every now and then. This makes it easy to lose time paying attention to them.
On the other hand, when you ever try to meditate or sit in an empty room for some time, you start feeling anxious, and your brain starts searching for something new to pay attention to.
If your work involves paying attention, your mind needs a change. You may introduce a new idea or stimulus every few minutes – and that’s how author John Medina, intentionally structures his course for long-lasting attention.
9. Plasticity of the brain: Constantly learning throughout the life
The new advances in neuroscience indicate that the brain changes and grows throughout life. So, if you thought you are “too old” to learn a new skill (check this out)or try something different, you are wrong. Our brain always maintains the capacity for any change and growth. The best way to learn new things is to explore and Experiment in various ways (check out one here), so go out into the world and try something new today!
These were the few rules from the book Brain Rules by John Medina. A must-read if you want to explore more such rules and unlock the power of your brain.
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