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Managing your brain, part 5.

Procrastinating brain

Reducing procrastination requires help from your brain

When we think of procrastination, we visualize someone rushing like crazy to get things done on time – risking mistakes, getting less than satisfactory results, and suffering undue stress and discomfort. But rushing to meet deadlines after delaying your start time is not the worst scenario. A much worse outcome results from delaying tasks that have no deadlines.

Leaving things to the last minute causes stress for sure; but it’s usually dissipated quite harmlessly when you eventually complete the task on time. And unfortunately many people even leave things until the last minute intentionally, thinking they work faster and better with an adrenaline rush, which simply isn’t true.

But the biggest problem occurs when there is no last minute. For instance, you may have life goals with no deadlines. You may want to write a book when you get time, or take a trip to Europe or revise your business brochure, organize your office and so on. If there are no deadlines, it doesn’t matter when you start – and quite often you never do. In this scenario the costs are horrendous – in terms of unfulfilled dreams, low self-esteem, a lack-luster life, and so on.

Recommendations abound on how to stop procrastinating, such as setting deadlines on all tasks, breaking the longer tasks into smaller increments, scheduling time for the tasks in your planner, setting reminder alarms on your iPhone, and working in a clutter-free environment. All are helpful; especially for those of us who have weak executive skills such as task initiation and response inhibition. These skills are required in order to avoid procrastination.

Children are especially prone to procrastination because their weak executive skills – those brain-based skills that mainly reside in the prefrontal cortex, take about twenty years to fully develop. The marshmallow experiments demonstrated this back in the sixties. A group of four-year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait but most could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the greater ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable and scored an average of 210 points higher on a scholastic aptitude test. Those who gave into temptation early on were more likely to be lonely, easily frustrated and stubborn. They didn’t cope well with stress and stayed clear of challenges. Yale University later conducted research on adults and found similar results.

The executive skills that are needed in order to wait for the greater reward include task initiation and response inhibition. It may explain why we tend to procrastinate on distasteful or overwhelming tasks and work instead on those brief and pleasant tasks, even though they may be less important. When we procrastinate, we are frequently putting off what we want most in order to get what we want at the moment.

But how were some of the few four-year-olds, who all had weak executive skills (since these skills were not yet fully developed) able to resist temptation and wait for the second marshmallow? Well, in examining the tapes many years later, researchers noticed that those children used strategies that allowed them to resist temptation – strategies that we could use ourselves in order to manage ourselves more effectively.  They all changed their environment in some way to offset their natural inclination to devour the marshmallow right away. Some put the marshmallow out of sight by sitting under the table or by facing away from the marshmallow. Others sang a song or hummed a tune, focusing their attention on something other than the marshmallow. They did something to avoid having to face the temptation.

So the suggestions normally given, such as reducing distractions and temptations by turning off your cell phone while working on a project, removing distracting photos or memorabilia and working for shorter periods of time before taking a break tend to compensate somewhat for weak executive skills.

But as adults, to be most effective in getting things done promptly and on time, we must maintain strong executive skills. And this includes continually exercising both physically and mentally, maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and balancing high-tech with high-touch, all of which are discussed in more detail in my ebook, Strengthen your brain’s executive skills, published by

Self-discipline is the rejection of instant gratification in favor of something better – a higher and more rewarding goal. Once you have written down your goals and blocked off times in your planner to work on them, you have a greater reason to resist the temptation to go wherever your impulses take you. The more you resist temptation, the easier it becomes.

Walter Mischel, in his book, The Marshmallow Test, suggests there is a limit to how much self-control we can exert before fatigue takes over, so don’t overwhelm yourself with too many goals. It took about 20 years for your executive skills to develop so it will take more than a few weeks to strengthen them.

Avoid goals that don’t excite you or you will be more vulnerable to digital distractions and the lack of mindfulness. Telling other people about your specific goals and making commitments rather than just voicing intentions have been known to help as well.

In my next blog I will discuss how to develop greater willpower.

Note: Books referenced in this article:

Mischel, Walter. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-control. Little, Brown, 2014. Print.

Taylor, Harold. Strengthen your brain’s executive skills: Denmark:, 2016



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Managing your brain, part 4

Biological clock

Tell your brain what you want.

How do you develop a positive attitude? Feed your brain positive information. Studies in neuroscience prove that we can change our brains just by thinking. One example is the placebo effect. It’s not the sugar pill or saline solution that does the healing; it your belief that it will cure you that actually prompts the healing.

According to Joe Dispenza, in his book, Evolve your brain, “what we think about, and where we focus our attention is what we neurologically become.”

Your brain already has fixed beliefs and habits formed over a lifetime of experiences and environmental influences. If the result is negativity, you can change this by managing your brain. If “you” were your brain, this would be impossible since you would already have your “mind” made up.

But as mentioned in a previous article, you are not your brain. You are “the mind within the brain,” as the title of A. David Redish’s book suggests. “You,” (including your consciousness) are your mind. It resides within the prefrontal cortex of the brain according to Joe Dispenza, and whether it is without substance (perhaps being energy) is yet to be determined.

But one thing is certain. You are able, through focused thought, to change the neurological make up of your brain and make physiological changes to your body.

The key is focused thinking. That’s why meditation helps. Joe Dispenza, in in his book, You are the placebo, mentions that the most difficult part of mentally healing his six broken vertebrae was a continual loss of attention. He believes we spend too much attention and energy thinking about what we don’t want, instead of what we do want.

So when you feed your brain with those positive thoughts mentioned in my last blog article (part 3 of this series) accept the fact that it may be difficult concentrating on what you want; but you will become more focused with practice.

Not only can your mind influence your brain and your brain influence your body, your body can influence your brain as well. Sian Beilock, in her book, How the body knows it’s mind, explains how Botox injected into frown wrinkles can help cure depression. It not only eliminates the frown lines, but also the ability to frown. Botox contains a neurotoxin that paralyzes muscles in which it is injected. Physicians believe that not being able to express negative emotions reduces negative feelings.

We have probably all experienced a situation where our mood was changed when forced to laugh. It’s hard to be angry when you’re smiling. And it has been shown that smiling while immersing your hand in ice water reduces the stress and lessens the pain.

There is a definite connection between body and brain that we can use to alter our mood, attitude and behaviour. This will in turn impact our time, our health, and our lives.

Note: books referenced in this article include:

Beilock, Sian. How the Body Knows Its Mind: The Surprising Power of the Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel. New York: Atria, 2015. Print.

Dispenza, Joe. You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2014. Print.

Dispenza, Joe. Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind. Dearfield, FL: Health Communications, 2007. Print.

Redish, A. David. The Mind within the Brain: How We Make Decisions and How Those Decisions Go Wrong. New York: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.





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Managing your brain, part 3

positive attitude concept - colorful sticky notes reminder on cork bulletin board
Maintain a positive attitude.

Action is the essential main ingredient of goal achievement and success. Action relies on the brain. Healthy brains are wired to continuously set, act on, and achieve goals. But just as you manage your business efficiently in order to make a profit, you must manage your brain efficiently in order to maximize the use of your time.

Your brain is capable of outperforming the greatest computer ever manufactured by man. But just as man-made computers rely on the users to operate them efficiently, so does your brain rely on you.

Like man-made computers, your brain can pick up viruses, but in the form of negativity, depression or anger. It can become overloaded and sluggish and even crash. It can have inefficient or outdated programs installed so that it fails to operate at full potential. Or it can be physically abused and mistreated by excessive alcohol, drugs or junk food – or by lack of sufficient sleep or nutrition.

You are not your brain. You must believe that in order to control it. Visualize yourself as the mind – the user – controlling the brain. You can program it to be enthusiastic and positive, focused and attentive, flexible and resilient, persistent and creative, and so on.

If you are troubled by procrastination or perfectionism or distractibility or lack of energy or any number of things that stand in the way of achieving goals and working at full potential, your brain is probably not operating on all cylinders. In many cases it only requires a minor adjustment to make a major difference in your personal productivity and physical and mental health.

You might first examine your attitude – or you could start anywhere. We will cover many more brain afflictions in future articles. But I feel your attitude can have a huge impact on the success of any self- improvement program so we will start there.

A negative attitude can cause stress and lower the body’s immune system. One Harvard study showed that those with the most negative attitudes at 25 suffered the most illnesses in their forties, fifties and sixties. Another study involved 69 women with breast cancer who were asked three months after their surgery how they viewed their disease and how it affected their lives. 5 years later, 75% of those who had reacted positively and with a fighting spirit were still alive compared with less than half the others. There is little doubt that attitude can have either a negative or positive impact on your health, productivity and well-being.

Exposure to nonstop negativity can disrupt learning, memory, attention and judgment according to Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University. Researchers have linked negative emotions to increased risk for illness, and positive emotions to health and longevity.

June J Pilcher, a psychologist at Clemson University, says the human brain is more attentive to negative events – probably because of a survival mechanism keeping us alert for life-threatening situations. According to the March/April, 2016 issue of Scientific American mind, this was demonstrated in two studies published in 2015 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

A happier, healthier lifestyle is more important than ever, and along with it, an attitude that tends to stress-proof your life. It’s important to get sufficient sleep, daily exercise and social support. But it’s equally important to be aware of the good things that happen to you – those positives amid negative events.

Be more conscious of the things that go right in your life, and remember that when things look bleak, humor helps. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugher reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, aids immunity, changes mood for the better, helps you think – and improves memory. Sandra Kornblatt, in her book, A better brain at any age, also gave an account of how humor during instruction led to increased test scores.

If you don’t believe you can change something, you won’t even try. According to Dr. Theo Tsaousides, author of the book, Brain blocks, one of the most effective ways to defeat negativity is to shift your focus from the bad to the good. He says that actually thinking only about negative experiences fills your brain with negativity, and you should start by making a list at the end of each day of the things that you enjoyed or you felt good about. When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts about someone or something, you should stop and search your memory for something positive about the same person or situation. Negativity will stop only when you stop speaking or thinking negatively.

That sounds easy; but we have to be convinced of the power of your mind to actually make changes both mentally and physiologically, and a strong indication that it will actually work. I hope to provide this in my next blog article.

Note: Some of the information included in this article was excerpted from my two ebooks, Manage your personal energy and Strengthen your brain’s executive skills, both published by




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Managing your brain, part 2

Human brain glowing lateral view
Maintaining a healthy brain

In my last blog I talked about the necessity of managing your brain for maximum effectiveness. To do this you must first make sure you maintain a healthy brain. There are indications of many unhealthy brains in the world.

According to Mike Dow, in his book, Brain Fog Fix, more than 5 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s, over 35 million people worldwide are currently living with dementia, and millions more are suffering from cognitive impairment or mild cognitive impairment not classified as dementia.

Sian Beilock, in her book, How the body knows its mind, provides an estimate of 21 million Americans living with major depression.

Dr. Mike Dow, quoting CDC statistics, says that 50 million Americans report they are not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to such things as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, breast and colon cancer, cognitive skills and performance among other things.

Scientific American, (January/February, 2016 issue) states that 8.5 million Americans take prescription sleep aids, which have a range of side effects, including daytime drowsiness, hallucinations and sleep-eating. One study found that regular sleeping pill users were 4.6 times likelier to die prematurely.

ADHD, considered to be a weakness of executive function in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, affects about 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17, and about 60% of these cases will extend into their adult years.

Other indicators of unhealthy brains include addictions to email, social media and the Internet, memory lapses, premature aging, negativity and a lack of purpose in life.

Actions can be taken to slow, stop or reverse all of the above assaults on our brains. These include physical exercise, meditation, control of technology use, adequate sleep, brain-sharpening exercises and lifelong learning, organization, proper diet, a more active lifestyle, improved work environment and work habits, energy management and the judicious use of medications and supplements.

Most of these interventions are discussed in some my ebooks that have been published by (Listed at the end of this article.) Others are currently been written. I also listed some reference books in my last blog. The important thing is to take action immediately to regain or maintain a healthy brain. Then you can concentrate on improving specific productivity enhancers such as attention and focus, goal-setting and persistence, and creativity and stress tolerance and planning & prioritization.

Physical health and mental health go hand in hand. Each affects the other. Each requires your attention. It’s important to be physically fit; but not to the extent that you outlive your mind.

Relevant ebooks published by

An introduction to holistic time management

Boost your memory and sharpen your mind

Manage your personal energy

Sleep: a time management strategy

Strengthen your brain’s executive skills

Time management strategies for an ADHD world

Time to be productive