How to Naturally Improve Your Brain And Elevate Your Performance
It doesn’t matter how much information you feed your brain. If you don’t stretch its main functions, your brain won’t take you very far.
As Albert Einstein has said:
“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
When you know how the brain operates, you’ll learn how to filter information. You don’t simply accept them, rather, evaluate how they can be integrated with other concepts.
Many people continuously feed their brain with various information but hardly produce tangible results of learning. They demand the brain to complete many tasks at one time.
When you develop the power of the brain, you won’t treat every information as the same.
You’ll read between the lines instead of keeping score on how many books you’ve read. You’ll constantly challenge its current performance. You’ll change your old practices that do not contribute to its growth
You’ll achieve great results than you used to. You’ll produce more outputs that are aligned with your goals. You’ll have more clarity and direction.
If you’re committed on improving your brain, you’ll stop exposing it to unfavorable conditions that limit its performance.
Instead, you’ll discern what problems to focus on and set aside distractions.
Those who consistently improve their brain benefit from its immense power.
It is difficult to increase productivity and performance without tapping the brain.
How You Unconsciously Hurt Your Brain
The brain is the organ of destiny. It holds within its humming mechanism secrets that will determine the future of the human race. — Wilder Penfield
Many people unconsciously hurt their brain’s power by overwhelming it with task and information. They get bogged down not knowing where to begin or what to pursue.
Increasing your brain power by small ways every day can lead to great returns in the future.
The brain is a powerful organ and can learn anything you want. You can influence your brain’s capacity to generate new brain cells and rewire your neurons.
The brain hates when it constantly drinks from a firehose that is spewing vast amounts of information.
It is not designed to be a massive storage of information. When you do, you experience fatigue and decrease in productivity.
Herbert Simon said:
What information consumes is the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.
It becomes difficult to process new meaning when we have a superficial view of the information we take in.
The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for decision making, judgment, and other executive functions. Multitasking reduces the fitness of the frontal lobe by trying to attend to different things at one time.
The more our focus gets disrupted, the worse we do.
Daniel Goleman, in his book Focus, identified two main varieties of distractions: sensory and emotional.
Sensory distractions involve our five senses while emotional distractions are those that keep intruding into our thoughts which are more difficult to stop.
Adding more tasks hurt the brain’s power to discard distractions.
No one is immune to these unfavorable conditions. By improving your brain’s capacity, you can overcome the hurt that these conditions cause.
When you use your brain poorly, it withers. But if you work it well, it grows.
Treat Your Brain Right To Achieve Win-Win Performance
Putting in effort is not an easy task. Most people want improvement but they rely on instant formula or hacks.
Improving the brain’s capacity is not the kind of exercise most people are willing to take. It takes deep thinking and effort to challenge the status-quo.
You’ll dig deeper the things you know to judge what happens around you. You’ll synthesize different information to produce a reliable meaning.
Nobel Prize Awardee and author, Daniel Kahneman, explains two types of thinking that operate in our brains. System 1 as he calls it is the “automatic thinking” and System 2 is the “effortful thinking.”
Most people rely on System 1 because it operates automatically and quickly. It requires little effort to activate and no sense of voluntary control.
For instance, when somebody throws an object on your face, your immediate reaction is to avoid it. Before you can even think, you already avoided the object. The instinct came automatically without any effort.
However, people only use System 2 when they really desire to use it.
System 2 requires attention to effortful mental activities. Kahneman also calls it “slow thinking” because it can reprogram the automatic functions of System 1 if needed. System 2 can follow rules and make deliberate choices with effort.
Most people don’t want to invest more effort than what is needed to improve themselves.
Thus, only a few people develop the following skills to improve their brain.
1. Selective Attention
In the TV series Brain Games, they made a social experiment to see if people are aware on their surroundings.
They assigned a clerk to talk to people about a tv event. In the mid-conversation, the clerk ducked down to grab a pen and was eventually replaced by another clerk.
Most people failed to identify the switch even when they had face-to-face interaction.
They found out that people don’t notice changes because they don’t expect them to occur. The brain is not prepared when these things happen.
This loss of attention happens every day and can be detrimental especially on documents we sign or important matters we deal with. Technology makes us lose the ability to sustain concentration on anything serious.
Daniel Goleman said:
The stronger our selective attention, the more powerfully we can stay absorbed in what we’ve chosen to do. The more distracted we are, the more shallow our reflections; the shorter our reflections, the more trivial they are likely to be.
Are you constantly distracted?
Can you hold off for one-hour without checking your phone?
Can you keep your mind from wandering off while talking to people?
Can you differentiate the important information from what should be ignored?
Do you jump on new task immediately instead of making good progress on your current goals?
Selective attention happens when you filter information by sorting input and output, attending to essential information and discarding less critical at hand.
Sandra Bond Chapman, in her book, Make Your Brain Smarter identified three strategies to improve attention:
a. Brain Power of None
Sandra Chapman said:
Solving problems or searching for an answer is not just about focusing and blocking distractions; it is also about stepping back to let the mind rest.
Science shows that a calm brain is able to produce more creative ideas and solve complex problems.
Goleman calls it “open awareness” when you simply let your mind wander and relax. Once the creative insight hits you, you can then switch to strategic attention to focus on it.
When you are solving a problem and can’t seem to find the solution, it is best to step back a little further and let the brain rest. By doing so, you allow it to calm down that will build the connections necessary to solve the problem.
b. Brain Power of One
Most people think that multitasking helps them perform better.
For tasks that require less controlled thinking, multitasking isn’t bad. But when it requires deep and effortful thinking, the brain likes it best when it can attend to one task at a time.
This is not to say to simply focus on one activity for an extended period of time. Brain appreciates novelty.
Take a break in between to perform other tasks that won’t drain the brain. It helps your mind to be mentally energized during breaks.
Instead of tackling different tasks at the same time, focus on one task even if it’s only short segments of time. When you do, try to avoid any distraction until you finish the task.
c. Brain Power of Two
“When you’re hunting elephants, don’t get distracted chasing rabbits.” — T. Boone Pickens
Society tries to fool us that we are being productive when we try to do more.
Most people have a long to-do list and choose to do the easiest things first so they can have the satisfaction of crossing something off their list.
What happens is that the difficult tasks are pushed later on when the brain is already tired.
When you are not constantly interrupted, you develop a laser-focused attention on things that really matter. It allows you to be more present on the important activities you need to attend.
Chapman suggests to focus on your two elephants when writing your to-do list. These elephants are the most important things you need to do on that day that will help you achieve the results you desire.
When the brain is rested, it can tackle the more difficult task and can produce more effortful thinking.
When taking a break, you can then tackle the less important tasks which require less effort from the brain. Do not let less important tasks take over your brain’s energy.
2. Integrated Reasoning
In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman showed an experiment on syllogism:
All roses are flowers.
Some flowers fade quickly.
Therefore some roses fade quickly.
When college students were asked if this argument is logically valid, most of them answered yes.
This experiment suggests that when people believe a conclusion is true, they believe that supporting arguments are valid even when they are unsound.
Most people do not like to think when confronted with some logical arguments. They resort to answers that come immediately in their minds.
Your integrated reasoning depletes quickly without practice. Instead of relying on rote thinking patterns, improve your integrated reasoning to boost your brain’s performance.
By doing so, you’ll be able to synthesize meaning from different sources of information. You don’t simply memorize facts without understanding them. Your higher order thinking skills are strengthened accordingly.
Do you ask probing questions that push your brain for deeper thinking?
Do you easily accept ideas the way they were presented?
Do you try to discern how ideas fit with your personal knowledge, biases and experiences?
Integrated reasoning should be a part of your daily habit because your frontal lobe benefits from deep thinking. No special apparatus is needed to exercise integrated reasoning.
All you need is to force your System 2 to work even when your lazy thinking tries to snatch your attention.
Reading without deeper processing does not improve integrated reasoning.
Instead of taking the literal meaning of a text or quote, create new meanings out of it.
Combine recent ideas with your past ideas and experiences to find out how you can connect them.
Come up with new interpretations of things that others would probably not conceive.
Benjamin Franklin has said:
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
When you apply the valuable inputs you receive, they are likely to stick in your brain for a long time.
See how these quick exercises can challenge your brain’s integrated reasoning:
Give one explanation of this proverb beyond its literal meaning and connect it with an event in your life.
People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Think back on the most recent book you’ve read. Generate three-five key ideas you got from it and how you can relate it to life.
Determine whether the statement below is valid or invalid.
If Sheila arrives at school at 6:30 A.M., she will get help in science.
If Shiela gets help in science, then she will pass her science test.
If Shiela arrives at school at 6:30 A.M., then she will pass her science test.
The above exercises require you to use your effortful thinking to give an answer.
Most people do not like this tedious process, so they end up not maximizing their brain’s potential.
The more you stretch your brain, the easier it will perform over time. You’ll produce more creative ideas and quality outputs that rote thinking will not be able to provide.
3. Innovative Thinking
People who are considered innovative thinkers stretch their creativity and imagination.
They continuously rethink practices to find better ways on how to solve things. They don’t get discouraged by repeated failures.
Instead, they learn from their mistakes and stretch their brain’s power to seek for a better solution.
Tom Freston has said:
Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.
When you develop innovative thinking, you’ll distinguish yourself from the pack. You’ll recognize and solve problems efficiently. You’ll showcase your unique qualities that will help you stand out.
Innovative thinking challenges you to find solutions to problems without falling back on standard accepted methods.
However, many people are stunted to develop their innovative thinking for fear of failure, rejection, and challenges.
All the developments and improvements we enjoy right now are products of innovative thinking done by great people in the past.
You are probably asking, “Who am I to innovate?”
Well, who are you not to?
If you only embrace the challenges to develop your brain, you can produce outputs that no one else perceives. The more you seek improvement, the better you become.
Unless you take the first step to develop good habits, your brain will not be able to show its inner genius.
Expose yourself to different kinds of people and materials, learn something new and find ways to connect them.
Set a time for free-flowing of ideas without worrying whether they make sense or not.
Try the following exercises to wake up your innovative thinking:
If you have read this far, come up with 10 possible headlines on this article.
Reflect on a recent conversation that seems uninteresting. Think of different ways how you can shift it into a more insightful conversation.
Create interesting and thought-provoking statements on your next email subject line.
Journal for 15 minutes without any interruption and brain dump everything that comes to your mind.
Improve Your Brain to Actually Improve Your Life
The only person who limits your brain capacity is you.
If you’re truly committed to your brain’s health, you’ll challenge it by tackling tasks that will stretch its capacity.
You’ll apply diverse strategies to solve problems. You’ll seek opportunities that will help you apply the learning you have.
Unlike many people who rely on their autopilot way of thinking, you’ll use more of your effortful thinking.
You don’t regress and rely on Google to deliver the meaning for you. You’ll commit yourself to small incremental improvements that are favorable to your brain.
In a complex world where almost everyone has access to the same information, you’re able to deliver new value by putting ideas together in novel ways.
You’ll form smart questions that open up your untapped potentials. You’ll come up with creative solutions to problems. You’ll achieve greater results than what you have right now.
You have the power to control your brain’s destiny. The more you practice it, the more intellectual capital you build.
So build away.
Want to Discover Your Best Self?
I’ve created a checklist to help you find out if you are operating based on your inner drives. If you are driven inside, your performance and life become better.
Let me give you a virtual hug because that’s what a kindred spirit does.