Five New Year Resolutions for Your Brain

Calm.  Clear.  Creative. That’s what you can be when your brain is happy.

When we are stressed and feeling overwhelmed, our brain is in threat response.  When we’re in threat response, our ability to think rationally and be creative is compromised.

Here are five things you can do to make your brain happy in 2012:

1. Constructive Venting: Something bothering you?  Vent it! Those of you familiar with Motivation Factor know that we use this technique as part of our Energy Drainer exercise to help calm the brain’s threat response and prepare us to generate forward-looking options and actions.  In order to think rationally and creatively about a problem, you’ve got to get out of fight/flight mode.  Take a few moments to list all the ways the problem is affecting you or causing you frustration. Who or what is letting you down?  What are you putting up with?  Write until you run out of steam.  That’s a sign that your amygdala is getting calm and you’re more ready to think.

2. Password Protect Your Hot Buttons: My phone had a habit of reaching out and touching someone on its own before I password protected it.  Our hot buttons do the same thing sometimes.  When someone inadvertently presses one, before we know it, we’re lashing out at them for some perceived offense – without any rational intent on our part.  Much like unintentionally dialing a client at 3am in their time zone, our hot-button-fueled, knee jerk reactions put our brain into threat response.  To avoid hot button mayhem (and to keep relationships healthy), practice the half-sec-pause.  It takes just a half second to name the offense (disrespected, embarrassed, dishonest, disorganized, etc.)  – like a password – to have a positive and calming effect on the brain’s stress response mechanism.  Then, you can respond just a tad more rationally.

3. Zone Out: “Meditation” can sound too heady and unattainable.  Relax.  Seriously, just relax.  That’s all your brain wants.  You know the difference between wearing a tight belt and being in sweat pants?  Picture your brain taking off that tight belt and putting on a nice pair of fleece sweats.  Aaaahhhhh.  That’s it.  Just get comfy and zone out for 5 minutes or more.  Recent studies show that insights (those “aha” moments) only happen when the brain is quiet.  Maybe you’ll have more of them.

4. Do What You Love: Did you know your brain lights up when you do what you’re best at?  Doing what you love also triggers feel good hormones, putting us in better moods and states of mind.  Are you creative? Bring more creativity into your work and life.  Love winning? Compete more.  Enjoy communing with nature?  Get the heck outside.  Doing more of what you love is restorative.  It’s good for the soul – and the brain.

5. Ask (and Answer) “Why?”: Why do you do what you do?  The best cocktail for the brain is made by combining equal part skill and challenge (shake, garnish with purpose and serve).  The brain is most balanced and alert when we are doing something that a. we have some skill at (ie we’re not totally overwhelmed or in over our heads); b. challenges us to learn or stretch (ie we’re not totally bored) and c. has some meaning to us.  Whether that meaning is in the doing itself (“I help save lives”) or an indirect result of the doing (“this awful job feeds my precious family”).   Whatever you do, are you doing it purposefully?  Your brain likes that best.

What do YOU do to keep YOUR brain healthy?


A Picture of Purposeful Engagement

This is a picture of my kids from a number of years ago.  It sits on a shelf above the stove where I was making tea in the kitchen this morning.  It occurred to me that this is a picture of purposeful engagement in meaningful work.  Do you think so too?  Why?


Three Kids Helping

Purposeful Engagement in Meaningful Work