Commentary by Nick Rakhshani
The brain is an incredible organ. It is by far the most complex organ and the least understood. In recent years there are numerous studies that show the brain has the ability to change based on the thoughts that we feed into it.
Although this concept is not new it has its origins in Eastern philosophy and meditation. But the pop culture would like us to believe things that we can measure and prove scientifically. Well, it turns out there is a vast amount of scientific evidence that shows brain has the capacity to change not just internally but also in size. Yes you read this correctly, evidence shows brain can change in size (by a small amount). If you really are interested in this subject there are plenty of great websites to visit. One of the sites that I like is HeartMath Institute. HeartMath goes into great details showing how the brain communicates with the body in four ways:
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Good news, old dogs — new tricks can be learned. And the secret to making dramatic changes to behavior involves one of the coolest new trends in contemporary science — neuroplasticity.
So, what exactly is neuroplasticity?
To put it simply, it’s the ability of the nervous system to respond to stimuli by reorganizing its structure, function and connections. There is plenty of evidence proving the incredible capabilities of the brain. Human beings can indeed change the way they behave and think, even in the presence of brain disorders.
An April 2016 case study published in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care found that patients with schizophrenia who underwent intervention strategies like cognitive remediation and physical activity can improve cognitive function and their quality of life while positively modifying neuroplasticity in schizophrenia.
Neuroplasticity sheds some light on the human ability to essentially change the structure of the brain. As needs change, people are able to create new neural pathways as a way to adapt. These changes are the brain’s method of tuning itself to a new habit or practice.
Neuroplasticity and the workplace.
How does this impact the professional world? For those who want to go for that promotion but don’t consider themselves to be a leader, think again. Leaders are needed and are in short supply. According to the Workplace Trends’ Global Workforce Leadership survey, almost half of the companies surveyed note that leadership is the hardest skill to find in employees.
Many companies are trying to implement leadership training courses to proactively address this growing concern. The 2015 Business Human Capital Challenges Report from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that one of the top concerns among HR and business leaders was developing the next generation of leaders.
Instead of relying on employers, employees should teach themselves how to retrain their brain to think like a leader.
What’s the best way to sharpen the mind and develop critical skills to learn how to be a leader? To begin, start training the brain when stress is low. The brain needs a specific amount of energy, so when it’s under stress, energy depletes, and the brain falls back to its habitual ways of thinking.
In other words, create a proper space to develop new thought processes.
Establish a conducive environment and routine.
Create an environment that’s comfortable, but also one that parallels an environment where the new knowledge will be used. The brain can create associations between background sensations that occur during a study session and the content being engaged with.
For instance, listen to similar music while studying if music usually plays in the office. Since the brain ties information being learned to the surroundings, consider studying in a variety of places to create as many connections with the information as possible.
Also, remove distractions and temptations that can derail the habit-forming process. Aim to achieve deep focus to retain as much information as possible. However, don’t overdo the study sessions and become burnt out.
People who work long hours tend to be less productive. The 2015 Staples Advantage report found that 69 percent of the staff say that working long hours decreases productivity, while 64 percent said adequate breaks increase productivity. In other words, stay productive by taking regular breaks.
Follow up learning with some reflection. A 2015 study from the Harvard Business School found that participants who were asked to stop and reflect on a task they’d just performed improved at greater rates than participants who just practiced a task.
Reflect by writing down important takeaways, as well as strategies and goals for the next session, then grab some shut eye. Sleeping shortly after learning something new helps retain information and improves memory.
Make it fun.
If it’s not fun, there is nothing positive to look forward to. Prioritizing enjoyment is crucial to doing anything productive.
Look at how people are approaching their health and wellness. Wearables are engaging people in fitness in meaningful ways — 77 percent of those surveyed by Accenture in 2016 said that using wearables makes them feel more engaged with their health.
Use gamification to make training more interesting. Apps like Lumosity are great for brain training games that incorporate gamification and track progress. These interactive programs also provide results in real time to keep motivation high.
There are a variety of training options. A 2015 study from Intercall found that 56 percent of 200 employees surveyed use online courses that encourage engagement and interaction. Make learning accessible, on demand, flexible and interactive.
Leaders are decisive and driven to solve problems, so focus efforts on decision-making skills and problem solving. Consider starting a group of colleagues so everyone stays accountable to each other.
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