Posted on

Managing your brain, part 10.

mirror brain

Listen to what your brain is telling you.

Strong friendships give both your physical and mental health a boost. The February, 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind reported on a quantitative review of numerous studies, concluding that having few friends is the mortality risk equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People with a close friend at work are more productive and more innovative. Strong social connections are the biggest predictor of happiness in general – and happiness has been linked to do an increase in longevity.

According to an article in the May/June, 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, not only are close relationships good for your health, there is also evidence that the absence of friends – or loneliness – can be toxic for your health. It can lead to increased mortality, depression, aggressiveness, poorer sleep and elevated blood pressure.

A bad mood is contagious, according to Gary Lewandowski, Jr., associate professor of psychology at Monmouth University. You unknowingly pick up other people’s nonverbal behaviors and tend to mimic them – similar to yawning. (It is more common when the person yawning is someone close to you.) Similarly you can pick up their high energy or low energy, positivity or negativity, enthusiasm or lethargy.

And as if having to cope with the hazards of secondhand smoke isn’t bad enough, it’s now found that secondhand stress can be hazardous to our productivity and health as well. The suggestion that stress can be contagious, and that we are influenced by the actions and emotions of others is based on research that suggests a class of brain cells called mirror neurons that appear to reflect the actions & feelings of others.

Our mirror neurons fire regardless of whether we or someone else is performing a specific action. That enables us to relate to the person to the degree that we even have a fair idea of why they are performing that action. This empathy with others includes emotions. So if you cringe at the sight of someone else getting hurt, empathize with your friend who is grieving and feel uncomfortable when a coworker is upset and anxious, blame it on these specialized brain cells. No wonder our mothers warned us to stay away from obnoxious people, surround ourselves with positive friends, and be polite to people.

When mother said, “This hurts me as much as it hurts you,” she wasn’t fibbing. Studies show that the pain we feel when others get hurt activates the same regions of the brain that are activated when we actually get hurt ourselves. And there is thin line between being physically hurt and emotionally hurt. In her book, How the body knows its mind, Sian Beilock reports that a daily dose of Tylenol diminishes the hurt feelings that often accompany being socially teased, spurned or rejected.

Not only does this make sense of the fact that we sometimes get “bad vibes” from people we meet, it also proves that we can have a positive influence on others – whether family, friends or business associates – by being kind, caring, compassionate and cheerful.

Choose carefully those with whom you associate; because you can pick up their bad moods as easily as you can pick up good moods. Avoid toxic people whenever possible. And don’t ignore your intuition or gut feelings when you transact business with someone.

Your brain could be telling you something.

 

 

 

Posted on

Managing your brain, part 9

Creativity-e1426531209203

Creativity in action.

My habit over the past twenty years or more was to go for a walk in the morning with my writing tools tucked inside a computer bag, thinking along the way about the article I was to write that morning. When I reached my destination – a coffee shop about twenty minutes from my home, I would take out my pad and pen, and amazingly I would complete the article without difficulty in the span of 30 minutes or so. It had almost written itself in my mind as I had been walking.

I originally thought it was the fresh air, relaxed state of mind, and the free time available to think about the topic that made the ideas and thoughts flow so easily.

But it was actually the body movement. Our creative ability is enhanced by walking, exercise or even simply gesturing. As expressed by Sean Beilock in her book, How the body knows the mind, (Atria Books, 2015) “moving the body can alter the mind by unconsciously putting ideas in our head before we are able to consciously contemplate them on our own.”

Movement can help us to solve problems and even increase productivity. And it’s one of the keys to remembering long lists of information in workshops through the storytelling, thinking and association techniques that we teach. (See my ebook, Boost your memory and strengthen your mind, published by Bookboon.com.

Moving your body can actually change how you think. Whether you are an actor rehearsing lines, a speaker memorizing a speech or a student recalling facts, when you include motion either physically or in your mind during the memorizing process, it makes memory and recall easier.

You have no doubt heard the expression “thinking outside the box” when talking about creativity. Well, researchers at Cornell University actually had volunteers sit inside a huge box while solving problems. They were outperformed by others walking freely outside the box. So resist the impulse to sit at your desk when solving a problem. And don’t sit around a boardroom table when brainstorming new ideas in your company. Research appears to substantiate the wisdom of stand-up meetings from more than simply a time management perspective.

The neurotransmitter, dopamine, which declines with age, plays a role in creativity, and exercise helps to slow or prevent this decline. So keep active your entire life; because if you’re idle, your mind may be idle as well. By managing your body, you are helping to manage your brain as well; because the body and the brain work in tandem.

This doesn’t mean you won’t get ideas while working at your desk as well. Ideas could flash through your mind and then disappear while you are busy working on a project. It’s a good idea to capture those thoughts immediately – either in a journal, smart phone or booklet – something more substantial than a scrap of paper that could itself disappear.

For example, we have a “Back Burner” page at the back of our Taylor Planner where we can quickly jot down those fleeting thoughts before continuing with the task at hand. The Daily Priority Pad also has a section for these ideas.  Creativity frequently happens when you’re busy doing something else. You can see both of these items at our website, taylorintime.com.

By the way, I still take that walk – sometimes varying the route and coffee shop. I still write the article, or book chapter or whatever longhand, in cursive writing – perhaps from habit – but I do believe it is also good exercise for the brain. Then I dictate it to my computer when I get home – using voice-activated software.