Super-charge your brain to gain a huge competitive edge in business and in life Future Brain is the busy professional's secret weapon for boosting mastery, efficiency, and productivity to gain that coveted competitive edge -- in business and in life. Designed to be implemented at the individual, team, or organisational level, this in-depth, step-by-step framework leverages neuro-scientific principles to help you develop a solid, habit-changing plan for building and maintaining brain fitness and healthy behaviours. Author Dr. Jenny Brockis will help you develop your thought processes and your regular routine to get more done with less effort and time. Based on the idea of neuroplasticity, these daily practices improve focus, creativity, and effectiveness to help you stay relevant, competitive, and way ahead of the pack. You already have a magnificent brain, but you probably take it for granted; we often develop "survival techniques" that force our brain to work with an incompatible "operating system" in an effort to keep up with the ever-increasing velocity of change and information overload. This book helps you beef up your brain awareness so you can take advantage of the built-in features and native capabilities that make the human brain a truly awesome machine. * Reduce stress and avoid stress-related illnesses * Foster healthy thinking habits to boost efficiency * Build your expertise with renewed focus and stamina * Drive innovation through productive collaboration A brain that can change, adapt, lead, and collaborate to operate with a high level of flexibility, agility, and creativity is a brain that will serve you well now and into the future. Future Brain turns neuroscience into actionable steps, helping you to train your brain to achieve high-performance in all areas of life.
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First we managed time, then we managed attention, now it's all about performance. In Future Brain Dr Brockis is tackling possibly the single most important factor in high performance — the hardware in our skull. Ranging from workflow issues to lifestyle issues to physiological hacks for optimising our organic super computer, this book is jam-packed with well-researched and highly practical tips and strategies.
Matt Church, CEO and founder of Thought Leaders Global and author of Amplifiers
This book is a practical roadmap for a healthy, alert and adaptive brain. If we keep our brain healthy, everything else will take care of itself.
Graeme Cowan, leadership and resilience speaker and author of Thriving Naturally
Future Brain is an essential read for any leader that wants to ensure they continue to lead into the future with relevance and competitive advantage. Dr Brockis shares her expertise, advice and essential must-dos to adapt and change for higher performance: to lead yourself, your team and your business, and ensure your continued success.
Janine Garner, speaker, best-selling author, and CEO of LBDG
Dr Jenny Brockis has taken the latest findings in neuroscience and distilled them into a readable, actionable 12-step plan to improve brain health, mental performance, resilience and happiness in the workplace. Dr Brockis deftly explains that high-performance thinking is not hard, but it does require us to look after our brain in the right way. Essential reading for every employer and employee.
Dr Sarah McKay, neuroscientist and science writer
Dr Jenny Brockis lights up the world with her much-needed work on how we can all future-proof our brains. Jenny makes complex neuroscientific messages accessible and practical with her warmth, wit and smarts. An award-winning communicator, Jenny helps business leaders, managers and educators get better results in everything they do, by simply using their brains better.
Yamini Naidu, business storyteller, best-selling author, speaker and mentor
DR JENNY BROCKIS
First published in 2016 by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd 42 McDougall St, Milton Qld 4064
Office also in Melbourne
© Rossvale Holdings Pty Ltd ATF The Brockis Family Trust t/a Brain Fit 2016
The moral rights of the author have been asserted
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data:
Brockis, Jenny, author.
Future Brain: the 12 keys to create your high-performance brain / Jenny Brockis.
9780730322504 (pbk.) 9780730322511 (ebook)
Brain. Mental efficiency. Mental health. Cognitive neuroscience. Neuroplasticity.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (for example, a fair dealing for the purposes of study, research, criticism or review), no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, communicated or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission. All inquiries should be made to the publisher at the address above.
Cover design by Wiley
Cover image concept by Kate Matheson and artvea / iStockphoto
Internal figures and light bulb graphic designed by Kate Matheson
Archery graphic by artvea / iStockphoto
The material in this publication is of the nature of general comment only, and does not represent professional advice. It is not intended to provide specific guidance for particular circumstances and it should not be relied on as the basis for any decision to take action or not take action on any matter which it covers. Readers should obtain professional advice where appropriate, before making any such decision. To the maximum extent permitted by law, the author and publisher disclaim all responsibility and liability to any person, arising directly or indirectly from any person taking or not taking action based on the information in this publication.
To Tom and Sophie, you are the future.
About the Author
Back to the future brain
Working nine to five. And six to twelve. And …
It's time for greater organisational health
Investing in mental capital
The 12 keys to developing a high-performance brain
Part I: Creating a high-performance brain
Key 1: Nutrition: Refuelling smart
You're such a fathead
Food and focus
The java jive
Our daily desk
Key 2: Exercise: You've got to move it, move it
Business on the move
Equipment order: one hamster wheel please
The perils of too much sitting
Moving towards a positive thinking space
Don't stress me out!
Key 3: Sleep: Bring me a dream
Respect the zeds
Sleeping on the job: the power of the nap
Helping ourselves to sleep better
Key 4: Mental Stretch: Flexing our mental muscles
Curiosity breeds success
Train your brain to change your mind
If I only had a brain: the Tin Man and other brainy myths
Take the challenge: could you pull the sword from the stone?
Part II: Operating a high-performance brain
Key 5: Focus: Adjusting our lens of attention
Give your brain a break
You don't pay attention to me anymore
Rage against the machines?
Why monotasking is the new black
Strategies for focus
Key 6: Mindset: Does your attitude suck?
What's with the attitude?
The power of belief
For the individual: becoming brain type ‘be positive’
For the organisation: keeping the door ajar
Key 7: Healthy Stress: Creating a brain-safe environment
Why caring is sharing
Psychological techniques to alleviate stress
Mobilising the brain to learn
Why learning really does take AGES
Promoting a culture for learning
Key 8: Mindfulness: Finding enough thinking space
Operating at fast-forward
What's your perspective?
Mindfulness over matter
Practice makes peaceful
Part III: Integrating a high-performance brain
Key 9: Change Ability: Adjusting to progress
The drama of change
The problem with change
Adopting a culture of change
Key 10: Innovation: Curiosity leads to insight and innovation
Aha! So that's what insight is all about
It's brainstorming? Quick, get in out of the nasty weather!
For the individual: creativity 101
For the organisation: igniting the creativity spark
Key 11: Collaboration: Side by side
Start with connection
Creating a collaborative culture
The eyes have it — social sensitivity
Taking turns does matter
Key 12: Leadership: Thought before action
What makes a good leader?
Laying a foundation for the future
The ones in the wings
The TRAICE™ model
Figure A: the three parts of a high-performance brain
Figure B: getting to a high-performance brain
Figure C: the human brain
Figure 1.1: parts of the brain affected by obesity
Figure 2.1: exercise increases cerebral blood flow
Figure 2.2: exercise primes performance
Figure 3.1: the five cycles of sleep (and some sheepish guest stars)
Figure 4.1: synapses at work
Figure 5.1: the attention network
Figure 5.2: the ultradian rhythm
Figure 5.3: the myth of multitasking
Figure 6.1: fixed vs growth mindset
Figure 7.1: the fight-or-flight response
Figure 7.2: filtering information
Figure 7.3: the away–towards model
Figure 8.1: how mindfulness affects the brain
Figure 8.2: optical illusion
Figure 8.3: mindfulness and neuroplasticity
Figure 8.4: telomeres
Figure 9.1: the brain's habit centre: the basal ganglia
Figure 10.1: functions of left and right hemispheres
Figure 10.2: brain waves
Figure 10.3: the nine dots puzzle
Figure 10.4: the nine dots solution
Figure 11.1: social pain hurts
Table of Contents
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner, healthy brain advocate and future mind planner. She is the Director and founder of Brain Fit and author of two previous books, Brain Fit! and Brain Smart.
A self-confessed nerd, Jenny is a lifelong learner. She graduated as a Nightingale Nurse (St. Thomas' Hospital London), then as a doctor (MB ChB Bristol), FRACGP, with further postgraduate qualifications in Nutritional and Environmental Medicine and the Neuroscience of Leadership, and has undertaken training in Mindfulness Meditation.
Jenny is an expert in brain fitness, which she defines as what it takes for individuals and organisations to stay brain healthy, eliminate poor thinking skills and boost mental performance. Her goal is to make brain fitness as well known and understood as Jamie Oliver has made healthy eating.
Passionate, eloquent and inspiring, Jenny's keynotes and workshops provide cutting-edge insights into how neuroscience provides the perfect pathway to navigate our complex, complicated and busy world. Never content simply to go with the status quo, Jenny is dedicated to her quest to promote the development of a brain-friendly culture that nurtures and develops all brains at work.
When not speaking, writing or researching, Jenny enjoys spending time with her husband and two young adult children, travelling the world and challenging her longstanding fear of heights.
Like crafting an Oscar acceptance speech, writing the acknowledgments for this book has been almost harder than writing the book itself, because there are so many people to thank. Each deserves their own special recognition for their contribution, for which I am forever deeply grateful.
This book would never have seen the light of day without the input, advice and wisdom that only a magnificent mentor can provide. Matt Church, it was tough love on occasions, but you provided what was needed to lift, nurture and develop my ideas. Thank you for always expecting more, for raising the bar, and getting me to do the work.
Tiffany Turpin, your editing ability to help turn what was originally a complete dog's breakfast into a half-decent first draft was much appreciated.
To the Wiley team, Chris, Ingrid and Peter, thank you so much for your support and guidance throughout the process. To Lucy Raymond an especial thank you for your initial belief in this book, that allowed the dream to become a reality.
Jem Bates, thank you so much for making the editing process such a constructive and enjoyable process. Your ability to sharpen up my writing and condense ideas into a more reader-friendly format has been invaluable.
Kate Matheson, for once words fail me. You have such an amazing brain — your breadth of knowledge of the English language, your razor sharp wit and creative talents appear to know no bounds. Thank you for all your input into the book, brilliant design work for the graphics and most importantly, your friendship.
Then there are all those supporters in the stands, the people who have contributed both directly or indirectly to the birth of Future Brain. To my fellow speakers and world class presenters on our Showcase journey in 2014: Yamini Naidu, Janine Garner, Lynne Cazaly, Angela Lockwood, Jamie Pride, Natasha Pincus and Marcus Bird — thank you. To Janine, who never failed to remind me that a Yorkshire lass never leaves the house without her big girl's pants on. To my fellow thought leaders Jason Fox, Gihan Perera and Mike House — thank you. You all continue to inspire me in my quest to share my message around the planet.
Cath Sutherland and Claire Savage, your friendship, support, fireside chats and raw chocolate treats have meant so much.
The one person without whom I would never have started this new journey and transformation from GP to professional speaker and author is my wonderful husband John, who has always believed in what I do and provided unconditional love and support; from always being there to pick me up from yet another late night flight back into Perth, to quietly just getting on with cooking dinner and sorting out all the other things going on at home, when he knows my ‘I'm just finishing this’ means I'll be more than a little while longer working in the back office.
To Tom and Sophie, who have grown into such beautiful, strong, well-rounded individuals. I'm so proud of everything you do and the people you have become. I love you to bits. This book is for you.
And finally thank you to you, the reader, for taking the time to stop and read this book, and discover what you can use to create your own high-performance brain.
We talk a lot as business leaders about the need for adaptability and innovative practices. This makes perfect sense, because we are living in a time of unparalleled change. Information, technology, the way we produce things — it's all on the fast track. We need to be able to match the pace of innovation.
What I find interesting is that nobody ever really discusses how we are going to achieve this. Yes, we can educate ourselves. Yes, we can do research and keep up with digital technology as it changes. But what about our ability to increase our mental flexibility, agility and adaptability?
HOW ARE WE ACTUALLY GOING TO MAKE OUR BRAINS PERFORM BETTER AND AT A HIGHER LEVEL SO WE CAN TAKE IN ALL OF THIS CHANGE?
This is about more than survival; it's about evolution.
In the age of information and innovation, the currency of knowledge is necessarily being replaced by our ability to think — and to think as well as we possibly can. We can initiate this change through greater brain awareness. For this we need to understand what is required to create and operate a thriving brain.
Future Brain reveals how you can use the latest discoveries from the brain science for your brain's advantage. It also sets out to answer some of the questions around how to build a brain for the future.
What will the future brain look like? Read on. You'll be surprised at what you find.
The current work environment is not a happy place in the main. Increasing levels of stress and anxiety, perceptions of time poverty and change fatigue, the effects of chronic medical conditions and depression on workflow — business is not booming. In Future Brain we examine these very big areas of concern and discuss how strategies based on neuroscientific research can be used to reduce their impact by offering practical solutions for individuals and organisations.
Our brain has received a bad rap for far too long. If you think of it in social media terms, our brain is a community page with about 300 likes. Why? Largely because, until fairly recently, we have been remarkably ignorant of the workings of our own minds.
Now, however, we have access to brilliant studies from neurologists, neuroscientists, psychiatrists and other researchers who are delving into why our brain works the way it does, and why we need to keep it as fit as we possibly can.
It is this research that has led to the development of the 12 Keys of Future Brain, which break down the academispeak to provide understandable, easy-to-implement ways for all of us to become better thinkers.
The standard working week is now almost as extinct as the dinosaurs. The distinction between work and home time is becoming ever more blurred. Perceptions of how we do our work, where we do it and even why we do it are shifting.
Flexibility of work hours may mean our working in several jobs or a change in the location of where we are expected to or allowed to do our work. Increasing globalisation means we are constantly interacting with overseas marketplaces, which has led to the concept of being ‘open all hours’. Our brains are, as a result, exhausted.
With greater technological capabilities than ever before, and with medical research at its peak, will we find a magic pill or potion to enable us to develop brain superpowers? Will there be a cerebral update chip that our health/brain practitioner can install when we attend our regular brain check-ups?
Or is there another solution, such as choosing to manage and use our brain better? Could it really be as simple as that?
If we dismiss the basics, we miss the point.
When I worked in general practice, my clients came to see me because they were sick. After all, that was my job: to make a diagnosis and provide a treatment to allow the patient to recover. But much of the time their sickness was a consequence of poor health and lifestyle choices. Not from ignorance, but just from trying to keep up with everything in their daily lives.
I also noticed that one environment that contributes heavily to the burden of disease, injury and mental distress is the one we call work. The modern workplace is very often a source of visible and non-visible harm, a toxic and unwieldy monster. The challenge before us is to address the stark reality that this is not only doing us physical harm but is costing us dearly in many aspects of our lives.
Depression is now the second leading cause of workplace disability globally. Type 2 diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in Australia. According to Sick at Work, a research paper published by Medibank in 2011, the total cost of presenteeism was reported as $34.1 billion for 2009–10, equivalent to a loss of 2.7 per cent of GDP. Presenteeism is the loss of productivity that occurs when an employee turns up for work but works at a lower capacity than normal because of illness, stress or other distractions. Presenteeism costs the Australian economy more than absenteeism, which itself currently runs at around $24 billion, with a direct cost of $536 per employee per day.
While the research clearly indicates the problem is huge, the implication is also that this problem is not going to go away any time soon, and indeed is likely to increase.
It is also possible that these figures underestimate the reality. Every one of us is impacted by different life events, concerns and worries at any given time. We might be super-productive, highly organised and excellent at our job, but we all have those times when we will be ‘off’ due to minor health ailments, family worries or extra-stressful circumstances at work.
Absenteeism is fairly easily defined in terms of specific time off for reasons of ill-health or injury. Presenteeism, though, is a far harder animal to corral.
From an individual perspective, when we speak of keeping fit and healthy, we are really talking about taking care of our minds and bodies so we can do what we want, when we want and as we want. The relatively recent concept of brain health signifies far more than simply a new term for mental health and wellbeing.
Brain health is about creating a fit and healthy brain that is then optimised to operate at its best, and a big part of that happens in our work life.
In the workplace, organisational health is about ensuring the complete health, safety and wellbeing of all who work there. The focus of OHS has traditionally been on preventing physical injury; what is needed now is the integration of brain and mind health into this model.
Bill Withers, founder of acQuire Technology Solutions, speaking at a conference I attended a couple of years ago, gave a nice analogy on the need to view a business (of any size) as a living organism. Just as a human being comprises trillions of living cells, a business is also the sum of its parts. Every staff member has a specific role to play. Each person contributes to the function and integrity of their workplace. Like a cancer or infection, malfunction in any part of the business, down to the level of the individual, can contribute to the demise or extinction of the business.
An extreme example of an organisation brought down by an individual is Barings Bank, which until it closed its doors had been the oldest investment bank in Britain, having operated for over 200 years. The activities of a single employee, a senior derivatives trader named Nick Leeson, led to the bank's collapse in 1995 with a loss of $1.4 billion. Leeson had been seen as the golden child, brilliant at creating money for the bank, which turned a blind eye to his super-speculative and unauthorised dealings.
Building organisational health need not be hard. It requires putting in place the checks and boundaries, ensuring everyone shares the same set of values, beliefs and purpose in support of creating a successful business. It implies having regular organisational health check-ups as a normal part of maintaining good workplace health. It's about nurturing the minds of every individual so they feel valued, respected and motivated, which is what drives engagement.
It also means a change in what a business chooses to invest in when looking to create continuing and successful change for the future.
Traditionally companies have typically invested a great deal in buying the latest technology to stay up to date and competitive. Similarly, it has been expected that the management of staff expertise would include investment in further training and hiring of new staff with particular skills.
This is of course a huge cost to business, but one seen as essential. What has previously been overlooked has been any consideration of how to better manage the staff's existing mental capital. If your company has a number of talented individuals, hired for their particular expertise, who are not working to their capacity, this is a huge waste of human talent and a missed opportunity to accelerate their potential — and therefore the growth of the company.
The view has been that the soft stuff — how people are managed within the workplace — was somehow less relevant or important to the business than the technical knowledge. This view might have been applicable in the industrial era, but it has no place in the modern workplace.
The human species has been so remarkably successful because of both our ability to adapt to change in our environment and our ability to connect with each other. We are social beings, hardwired to flourish through working and living with others. It is our relationships that matter above everything else — the relationships we have with our family and friends, our acquaintances and work colleagues.
In business, relationships with customers are only one facet of the social web of connection we enjoy. Our future success and happiness as individuals and organisations depends on our ability to form, nurture and maintain our relationships.
The companies that understand the importance of this will be the ones that will grow through the development of a culture that is brain friendly, a culture that values and respects all brains at work.
Today the pace of change and the introduction of new ideas and technology is so fast it can be difficult to find the time to absorb and assimilate what could be most useful to us before the next round of advances and upgrades arrive on our doorstep. Which is why it can sometimes be tempting to keep the door closed, bunker down and hope everyone will leave you alone until you are ready to come up and draw breath.
Choosing to invest in the mental capital and wellbeing of every staff member is the obvious path to responsible organisational health. The Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project produced by the Government Office for Science in London concludes:
If we are to prosper and thrive in our changing society and in an increasingly interconnected and competitive world, both our mental and material resources will be vital. Encouraging and enabling everyone to realise their potential throughout their lives will be crucial for our future prosperity and wellbeing …
An individual's mental capital and mental wellbeing crucially affect their path through life. Moreover, they are vitally important for the healthy functioning of families, communities and society. Together, they fundamentally affect behaviour, social cohesion, social inclusion, and our prosperity.
What is implied is that as individuals we can expect to take greater responsibility for our own health and wellbeing, as well as ensuring that our needs and agendas are being appropriately taken care of in our lives and at work. From an organisation's viewpoint this is about developing greater inclusivity, responsiveness and openness to conversations around performance and development.
So what is mental capital?
The Foresight group defines it as the combination of cognitive ability (mental flexibility and efficiency) and emotional intelligence (dealing effectively with stress, resilience and social skills). They define mental wellbeing as a dynamic state in which an individual can develop their potential, build strong and positive relationships, and contribute to the community.
Mental capital implies a value base, which ties in nicely with the idea that brains matter and that growing brains to work at their best makes perfect economic sense.
Growing healthy workplaces leads to high performance.
‘Organisational health,’ writes Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage, ‘will one day surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage.’ He defines organisational health as the integration of management, operations, strategy and culture. Sure, business needs strategy, marketing, finance and technology, but it also needs to deal with those people issues poisoning so many workplaces:
poor communication or, worse still, lack of communication
confusion around expectation
lack of trust
lack of relatedness
lack of collaboration
lack of innovation
lack of effective leadership.
I could go on, but I think you get the drift. There is a lot of ‘sickness’ in many of today's workplaces, which ultimately leads to a loss of integrity and organisational health.
Lencioni is right. Restoring organisational health has to start with going back to the basics of creating a healthy brain capable of consistently thinking well, with less effort, even when under pressure. People today live and work under an incredible amount of pressure. Having to juggle multiple, often complex tasks with the perception of time poverty stresses us out. This in turn can compromise mental performance.
Organisational health is about making sure that:
you feel you have the capability to do your work and do it well
you can enjoy what you spend so much of your time doing
you feel you have enough time and energy at the end of the day to devote to those things that give you pleasure and mean most to you.
Media business commentators such as Alan Kohler in Australia love to discuss the reasons why various businesses are or are not performing well. A commentator will note the links between profit margins, profit forecasts and ASX performance, but until fairly recently there has been little research into which specific elements of human behaviour contribute to high performance.
A study published by the Society for Knowledge Economics in 2011 revealed some fascinating insights into what makes the biggest difference to how well a business performs. Cutting through all the business-speak, Steven Vamos, President of the Society for Knowledge Economics, summarised their findings nicely:
The study shows that leaders in higher performing organisations prioritise people management as a key priority, involve their people in decision making processes; are more responsive to customer and stakeholder needs; encourage a high degree of responsiveness to change and learning orientation, and enable their staff to fully use their skills and abilities at work.
High performing organisations are not just much more profitable and productive, they also perform better in many important “intangible attributes”, such as encouraging innovation, leadership of their people, and creating a fair workplace environment.
From the survey of 5601 employees from 78 Australian organisations who participated in this study, it was revealed that the highest performing workplaces enjoyed a 12 per cent higher level of productivity, which translated into a profit margin roughly three times higher than found in low-performing workplaces.
The key differences were all derived from human interaction and behaviour.
How we think and how we work as a consequence are hugely influenced by our mood, health and interactions with others.
IT'S TRUE. WE ARE HUMANS WHO THINK AND FEEL. IT'S TIME TO PUT THE HUMANITY BACK INTO HOW WE CHOOSE TO LIVE OUR LIVES AND DO OUR WORK.
The currency of the digi-age is our mental capital and wellbeing. We have lived through a number of different eras: the agricultural age, the industrial age, the technological age — and now we sit squarely in the Age of Appquarius. It's also the age of the brain and thinking, when the human brain will differentiate itself through imagination, innovation and creativity.
Today it's important to ask what changes you wish to see, and how you can achieve them in the context of understanding that:
change is hard and the brain resists it
effective change in a global economy requires all of our social, emotional and cultural intelligences to work collaboratively
changing how we relate to and communicate with others at an interpersonal level is required to boost collaboration.
This is why organisational health and intelligence must be managed now for organisational survival. Economic conditions are tight, the marketplace is noisy with increasing global competition, and confidence remains low. We can't imagine the speed at which our future brain will operate, or the speed of future change. But the pace of change will continue to challenge us, so we will have to adapt fast, and in the right way to keep up.
What we do know about change is this:
It's happening all around us. It is normal, expected and often desired.
It's neverending. Change invariably leads to further change.
It's tiring. Too often, change strategy takes a lot of effort and distracts from other important work on hand, which can lead to change fatigue.
It isn't always for the good. Knowing how to differentiate the good from the bad or the ugly is sometimes hard, and it can often not be determined until tested. There will always be an element of risk involved.
It can be hard work.
However, change is essential as an adaptive process that leads to growth and opportunity. People sometimes talk about change management, but change isn't ‘managed’ at all. It is chaotic and ever evolving. Instead of managing it we need to lead it — and to lead it courageously.
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