The Future Brain by Dr Jenny Brockis is all about helping you to unlock the full potential of your brain by treating it correctly with everything from a good night’s sleep to proper hydration, meditation and mindfulness.
Everything that Brockis says in the book is backed up by science and she’s not afraid to share the studies that she used to create her twelve rules for a healthy brain. Brockis herself is a qualified medical practitioner and the director and founder of Brain Fit, as well as a healthy brain advocate and a future mind planner.
You can tell that Brockis is passionate about what she’s writing about, and that passion is infectious. That makes reading her book a pleasure, and it also means that by the time you get to the final page, you’re ready to put the lessons that you’ve learned into practice.
According to Brockis, “The currency of the digi-age is our mental capital and wellbeing. It’s [the age] of the brain and thinking, when the human brain will differentiate itself through imagination, innovation and creativity.”
This is the core idea behind the book as a whole, and it’s a valuable reminder that our brains are our most valuable assets. And when it comes to the workplace, simply putting the infrastructure in place to help employees to make the most of their brains can make a huge difference to the overall performance of the company. And of course, because Brockis highlighted 12 key areas for people to focus on, it makes it easy for us to summarize the main points of the book so that you can start working on your future brain too. Here’s what you need to know. (Watch an animated review of the Future Brain on Open Sourced Workplace - HERE)
“Think of your brain as a car and your body as a highway,” Brockis says. “Would you prefer to be driving a brand new Ferrari, or a rust bucket leaking oil and coughing smoke all over the road?” The evidence is already in, and the food that we eat affects everything from our memory and our mood to our long-term mental health. We’re all in control of what we put into our mouths, but too few of us actually remember that. According to Brockis, avoiding processed foods full of fat and sugar is the single best way to maintain healthy cognition.
Exercise has never been more important for us as a species, especially now that we’re increasingly sedentary and working at desks and computers instead of ploughing fields and carrying out manual labour. Brockis explains that exercise enhances blood flow to the brain, leading to reduced brain shrinkage and increased neurogenesis and plasticity so your performance remains high. This doesn’t mean that you need to run marathons to stay healthy, though. One way to get more exercise is to develop a company culture that encourages walking meetings in the local park instead of gathering people around boardroom tables and pumping them full of snacks.
“We spend roughly one-third of our life asleep,” Brockis explains. “Yet our understanding of why we sleep, and its relevance to our mood, cognition and wellbeing, is still very young. In a world that often views sleep as a bit of a nuisance, something that stands in the way of our doing other things, knowing why we need sleep is critically important to our high-performance thinking.” Some of the benefits of proper sleep include improved physical and mental wellbeing, mood regulation, neuronal repair and maintenance and greater creative and innovative thinking. We also make fewer mistakes and have fewer accidents when we sleep properly.
The idea here is that we need to flex our mental muscles if we want to stay at the top of our game. The brain is a muscle that can be strengthened with exercise, which is why Brockis advocates trying to recapture the curiosity that we had as children. “By sustaining that sense of wonder and adventure from our childhood in our adult years,” she explains, “staying curious allows us to develop a stronger and more resilient brain, with the mental muscles needed to avoid rapid cognitive decline.”
Brockis kicks off this chapter with a story about Winston Churchill during World War I. He made delousing the men under his command his top priority because he knew that they couldn’t afford to be distracted from the task in hand. Our ability to focus on a single task can be practiced and improved over time, but we have to consciously think about it if we want to make it happen. Brockis explains that attention shapes the brain and is designed to be used for short chunks of time to be effective. And when we fail to deliberately give our brain a break, it does it by itself and our minds start to wander.
“Our attitude or mindset is not something we are born with,” Brockis explains. “It evolves gradually, refined by our experiences and who we spend our time with.” The good news is that we can all take control of our mindset, whether that’s by consciously choosing to be optimistic or whether it’s by using techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy to work on pre-existing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. And remember that the people that we spend the most time with have a profound effect on our attitudes towards life, so if someone’s toxic or unpleasant then consider trying to spend as little time with them as possible. Don’t let them bring you down with them.
“Ask someone about stress and they will usually tell you it’s a bad thing,” Brockis says. “It’s bad for your brain and your body and can make you sick. Which is true, if the stress you are experiencing is chronic, severe and overwhelming your normal coping mechanisms. Yet stress is a completely normal part of our everyday lives. If we didn’t have anystress, we wouldn’t have the impetus to get out of bed in the morning, let alone get on and do anything.”A certain amount of healthy stress can be a good thing because it effectively allows us to take advantage of our body’s natural fight or flight response. Adrenaline can help to boost our performance in the short-term, but it can also bring on physical and mental breakdowns if you start to rely on it.
Brockis says that while mindfulness and meditation are nothing new, they’ve experienced a rapid uptake in the corporate world which suggests that there’s something in it. In fact, the regular practice of mindfulness has been associated with many benefits including improving focus and concentration, reducing stress, improving decision making and helping people to sleep. In other words, mindfulness is almost the link that ties the other eleven keys to a future brain together. It’s hard to overstate just how important it is.
There used to be a time when you could learn a single skill and you’d be set for life. Most jobs were dull and repetitive, and it was more important to be a cog in a machine than a skilled thinker. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon how you look at it), those days are over. Today’s employees need to be able to change, and to change quickly. In fact, in today’s fast-paced world, there’s a first mover advantage which means that the quicker that we’re able to change, the better. “The challenge for our brains (and our bodies) as we head into the digi-age is the increasing rate of change,”Brockis says, “both personal and professional. Just as we get a grip on a new concept in business, there’s yet another change in process, procedure or product.”
“Insight is a highly valued cognitive ability,” Brockis explains. “A higher level of insight will differentiate the great from the good and provide the crucial competitive edge in the future. It will be how well we can innovate and create – or lead others to perform this function – that will matter the most in business currency.” Innovation can’t be taught, but it can be practiced. Brockis also suggests avoiding brainstorms as data that shows that structured discussions are more effective when it comes to generating ideas. A certain amount of pressure can also help to facilitate ideas, which brings us back to healthy stress. Just don’t overdo it!
“The greatest ideas in history have rarely come from a single source,” Brockis says. “Rather, they have sprung from collaborations. ‘No man is an island.’ We need social interaction.” To support her point, she refers to the young John Lennon who, in the late 1950s, met a guy called Paul McCartney who played bass and who could help to make his dreams of creating a rock ‘n’ roll band a reality. When it comes to the workplace, we have the ability to specifically engineer collaboration. “Steve Jobs was an early innovator in this area,” Brockis says. “He devised the Pixar offices so that people would be forced to bump into each other during their working day. Why? Because of the value of water-cooler chats, bathroom chats and lunch break chats for increasing productivity and collaboration.”
This chapter kicks off with a quote from Ken Blanchard, who said, “Real leadership happens when you are not there.”Brockis knows that there’s no shortage of self-help books on the market which are specifically designed to help people to become better leaders, and she also knows that it’s not really something you can really learn from a book. As with most things on this list, practice makes perfect, and while books and training programmes can help to a certain extent, nothing can make up for good old-fashioned experience. One tip that she does share is to research leaders that you admire and to identify ways that you can imitate them. Brockis also talks about how it’s the role of a leader to bring out the best in others, and she suggests that the best way to do this is to listen, speak, reflect, inquire and connect.
“The human brain is remarkable for its ability to adapt and evolve,” Brockis says. “The way we use our mental acuity to handle situations, stresses and sensory experiences that are unfamiliar to us is extraordinary. The more we unravel the brain’s secrets, the more we can marvel at its complexity and beauty. Developing high-performance thinking is not hard, but it does require us to look after our brain in the right way.This involves conscious choice. Conscious choice in turn involves best thought practice. Best thought practice – that depends on having a healthy, fit brain.”
Now that you know everything there is to know about the Future Brain and how you can expand your capacity to think creatively under pressure and to get more out of your life, the next step is for you to go ahead and get started. Head back up to the top of the list of the 12 key areas and start to make notes on how you’ll be able to implement what you’ve learned into your day-to-day life. Brockis is a medical professional who’s done the hard work for you by collating the latest neuroscientific studies and principles and providing actionable insights based upon them. Remember, though, that this isn’t some quick fix.
Having a healthy brain is like having a healthy body. You need to exercise it regularly, and it helps if instead of thinking about short term diets, you make a long-term lifestyle change. So go ahead and get started on those changes that will make your brain healthier and more efficient in the workplace.
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