Wouldn’t life be so much easier if you’d just been given a User’s Manual for your brain? Not one written by the people at Ikea but one you could really understand, with real life applications.
A User’s Manual that gets your brain to work FOR YOU vs against you.
I talk a lot about the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), the part of our brain responsible for: rational/logical thinking, complex problem-solving, will-power, focus, compassion, imagination and reason. With all that good stuff how can you not want to talk about it?
But here’s the thing about our PFC – it’s weak, fragile and it has a limited “on” time. If you don’t know how to manage it properly then you will never be able to perform at your best.
So I’ve compiled a list of some very easy things you can do to manage your day and your PFC more effectively. The benefit to you is you’ll be more focused, productive, calm and as a byproduct less stressed!
5 Simple Ways to Increase Your Brain Power:
1. Declutter Your Work Space or Living Environment
A recent Princeton Study found that the more disorganized your space the more difficult it is for you to focus and process information.
The reason for this is that your Ventro Lateral Prefrontal Cortex (VL-PFC) is the part of your PFC responsible for putting on the braking system and shutting out distracting information.
For example, every time your phone beeps with a new incoming message and you resist the urge to not answer it your VL-PFC is working; without a functioning VL-PFC you wouldn’t be able to resist not picking up your phone and checking your messages.
Every time you resist you use up a little bit more of that “on” time for your PFC.
When you are working in a cluttered environment, your VL-PFC is working overtime to filter out all the visual clutter allowing you to focus on what you are working on.
You are making whatever you are working on that much harder for your brain.
It’s like driving with one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake at the same time – it just puts a strain on the engine.
And so it is with your brain – if you make more work for your PFC you will have less time with it.
2. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand
Our brains average about 3 lbs in weight but use up 20% of our energy – these supercomputers take a lot of power to run! No glucose = no PFC.
Think about how you feel when you get hungry and you’re trying to work on a complex problem.
You feel like your brain is fried, you just can’t “think” clearly anymore and you start to get irritated and angry.
If you were going on a long drive and you knew there were no gas stations for the next 200 miles you’d fill up right?
Or maybe you’d even take a couple of cans with you – just in case.
If you are going to need your rational, logical, problem-solving part of your brain then make sure you have some fuel on hand. Don’t wait until it’s too late and you crash!
One of the best brain food snacks – walnuts! Not just because they look like our brains – but because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids – an essential fatty acid that keeps the brain functioning normally.
Walnuts don’t need to be refrigerated so they are an easy snack to keep on hand and keep your PFC running smoothly.
About to head into an important meeting – grab a handful of walnuts to ensure you’re bringing your A game!
3. Stuck on a Problem – Take a Walk Around the Block
A study from Stanford University showed that after taking a walk participants performed up to 84% better on a test geared towards creativity vs participants who did not walk.
The reason for this is still not entirely clear to scientists but some theories suggest that when we are walking we are NOT using the PFC and this allows NEW ideas and connections to form.
Sometimes our PFC is too logical for our own good!
By taking it out of the way we see things in a new light that we might otherwise not have seen before.
And a bonus of the walk is that we have given our PFC a rest – so now we can take this new idea that we’ve just come up with and implement it with our refreshed PFC.
4. Do the Big Jobs First
I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new here – but maybe you haven’t understood from your brain’s point of view why you should take care of the big jobs first.
Again, this all comes down to our PFC and its limited capabilities.
Let’s say you start your day with five things on your To Do List – one is a really big item and the other four are relatively easy.
Naturally we go for the four easy ones first.
With each task we deplete a little bit more brain power and then by the time we get to the really big task we only have a little bit of brain power left.
And because of the size of the task and the fact that we are already running near low it can easily seem overwhelming to the point where the PFC just checks out entirely.
Sure, you can still try to do it – but you won’t be performing at your best – and the point of this blog is to perform at your best.
Resist the urge to go for the easy ones first! You are making things harder for yourself not easier.
5. Write Things Down
Just holding an idea in your head “don’t forget to pick up milk,” takes up valuable energy and resources.
The easiest thing in the world is for us to write something down and free that mental space up for something more complex.
Whenever I get a new idea or remember something I need to do and let’s say I’m driving and can’t write it down – I reach for my iPhone and tell Siri to remind me later. Let’s use technology to our advantage friends!
One of the biggest advantages to having a strong PFC is the inverse relationship between the PFC and the amygdala which is responsible for engaging in the fight or flight response.
If your PFC is active you CANNOT be angry, fearful or irrational and likewise if your amygdala is active you CANNOT be rational, clear headed, compassionate or focused.
There are lots of other things we can do to increase our brain power and the strength of our PFC: sleep, meditation, diet, etc.
But the purpose of this blog was to show you some of the simpler, more applicable ways we can maximize our brain’s performance.
Give them a try and see how it makes you feel.
And then when you’re ready to really take your brain to the next level, give us a try and learn to meditate.
If you already work out to keep your body fit, why wouldn’t you work out your brain as well?
That’s where the real power is!
PHOTO COURTESY OF ALAN AJILFO