More Brain Training

I’m not going to lie. 

This is a little counter-cultural.

But, it’s an essential key to getting our brains to help us thrive. 

Most of us are conditioned to use fear as our catalyst to launch decisions and actions.

“I’d better get going on the project, or else__________ (insert threat here.)”  

What’s the problem with that? Scaring ourselves into action makes us dumber. I’m serious—research indicates we lose cognitive ability when we’re under stress. A study at Princeton University showed people who were worried about not having enough money lost 13 IQ points than when they weren’t stressed out. 

HOT TIP: Getting stupider is not the best way to get our brains primed for success. 

Also, trying to scare ourselves into action burns us out. Over time, the same internal threats lose their ability to motivate us and begin to demotivate us, instead. 

Still, lots of us have ingrained patterns of trying to plug into fear as our power source for getting things done. 

“We’re running out of time!” 

“We’re behind!” 

“You’ll miss your chance!

And, the granddaddy of them all, 

“There’s not enough time!!”

These can be our favorite go-to’s for trying to get ourselves, our employees, or family members to jump into action. That would be just fine if we didn’t have all the data to show that scaring ourselves into action makes us dumber and less effective.

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson is an expert on positive brain change. He called the stressed out “You’d better, or else!” brain state a lot of us use to try to frighten ourselves into action “red brain” and the calmer brain state “green brain.” 

The red brain is reactive. It’s how we respond to threats—an activated stress response. It gets us primed for aggression, frustration, irritation, and inadequacy. It’s an okay state to be in when we’re under a real threat (when someone is trying to kidnap you, it’s okay to be damned aggressive, for instance.) But, being in this activated stress response for any length of time has severe costs to well-being, health, and longevity The Bottom line? Red brain (what I call the stressed mind) is a bad brain to produce success. It’s inefficient, ineffective, and not sustainable. 

So, how do we move from the stress zone to the success zone? The green brain (or what I call the success brain) is responsive, instead of just reactive. There are no downsides to being in this brain state. How do we get there? 

One tool is to do a better job of noticing and managing our thoughts. 

For instance, for much of my life, my all-time favorite thought was, “There’s not enough time.” Fifteen years ago, I would have argued that wasn’t a thought. It was a FACT, a state of being, and my cross to bear.  

Now, I know it’s a thought that describes a perceived lack or shortage. Any thought that describes a perceived lack or shortage of something essential to us becomes a threat—which stresses us out. 

I wrote a whole book on how ineffective the thought, “There’s not enough Time,” is and how it ends up costing us lots of time. I won’t repeat it all here. But, I will summarize how unhelpful the thought “there’s not enough time” is. 

MODEL ILLUSTRATION

Thought= “There’s not enough time.”

How do you feel when you think that thought?

Stressed, agitated, angry, frustrated, hopeless, listless, 

How do you act? 

Short with people, bitchy, scattered focus, or hyper-focused on the wrong thing, shut down, procrastinating, 

What is the result?

Not much gets done, or not the right stuff gets done.

So, by thinking this measly little thought, we’re triggering a reaction/action cycle that produces lousy results. 

Try this instead.

  1. Notice 

When you have the thought, “there’s not enough time,” pause for just a second to notice. Seriously, say to yourself, “I notice I’m having the “there’s not enough time” thought again. 

This concept is based on something called acceptance and commitment therapy. Paying attention helps us avoid behavior patterns where the same damn thoughts deliver crappy results over and over again. 

It helps you avoid letting stress take you down the same rabbit hole over and over again. This method, pausing to see the thought, allows the more sophisticated part of your brain take over to make better decisions and accomplish something that matters to you.

2. Replace

Replacing a thought that’s not helpful with a more helpful one is another really useful tool to manage your thoughts. 

Replace “there’s not enough time” with “there is enough time.”

How do you feel when you think that thought?

More relaxed, calmer, open-minded, creative.

How do you act?

More collaborative, better focused, hopeful, inspired.

What is the result?

More gets done in better priority order. 

So, getting our brain primed for success means being open (go growth mindset!), avoiding using fear or threat to launch action and decisions (team success brain!), and doing a better job of managing our thoughts (notice the unhelpful thought and replace it with something that’s likely to serve me better.)

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