Tag Archives: multitasking

Monday Morning Moment – Neuroplasticity – Resetting Your Brain for Success at Work and Life

Photo Credit: Pixabay

You know that shocking experience when you are driving to a known destination and then get lost in your thoughts? At some point, you snap back to attention and wonder, “How did I get here, I wasn’t even thinking about it?!” That is neuroplasticity or brain plasticity. It is an amazing capability we all have and can be nurtured and utilized throughout our lives. Yes, “old dogs CAN learn new tricks“.

What is this phenomenon?

Mike Torres, of Refocuser, gives an excellent definition, as well as an explanation of function, in his piece Neuroplasticity: Your Brain’s Amazing Ability to Form New Habits.

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to restructure itself after training or practice. An example of how neuroplasticity works: when you view the brains of people who frequently practice playing the violin under fMRI (functional MRI) they appear to have developed a larger area of their brain devoted to mapping their fingers.  Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This change is directly related to the quantity and the quality of the practice they’re performing – their brains are adapting in very real and tangible ways unbeknownst to them... The more practice you accumulate, the more ingrained or grooved the pathways become.  Of course the inverse happens as well: if those pathways aren’t utilized, the space will be used by other pathways needing room to grow. Use it or lose it! …Your brain can change based on repeated experience…People of any age have the ability to learn new things and form new habits. Mike Torres, Refocuser

Watching Nathan play intricate, complicated runs on his classical guitar boggles my mind. How can he think that fast? It’s lots of practice that causes the brain to connect to the hands, and those difficult pieces get “under his fingers” almost without thinking.

Years ago a friend gave us this book Never Too Late by John Holt. In his “musical life story”, Holt describes how he learned to play the cello in his 40s. We were encouraged by this during a time we moved to Egypt and learned Arabic in mid-life…when language-learning is supposed to be especially difficult.

I love neuroplasticity but it gives me hope, in getting older, of keeping skills and developing new ones, even as an aging person…unless I give in to dumbed-down practices excusing myself for the same reasons of “getting too old”.

When my older brother suffered a stroke, it was neuroplasticity and the repeated efforts of his medical and therapy team that got him back on his feet. He finally “repeatedly practiced” his way back to independence. The personality changes seemed more ingrained, however, they changed, too, as he exchanged his anger and bitterness for a hopefulness and longing for healthy, loving relationships. As he refused to give into anger and chose soft responses, his personality seriously changed over time…with conscious that eventually turned unconscious practice.

How does all this apply to us in the workplace and life, in general? We are confronted at times with a situation that confounds us – a new uncomfortable skillset, an unpredictable relationship, or an unfamiliar decision-making process. Neuroplasticity helps us to not just give up on mastering either a new work process or a complicated interpersonal situation.

Debbie Hampton has written an excellent summary piece on this that will help kick-start any new habit formation necessary for us to continue to do excellently in our work. She was influenced by Dr. Michael Merzenich’s work published in his book Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life. I have listed below Merzenich’s 10 elements of how we can rewire our brain. You will find Hampton’s summary on each very instructive. [I comment briefly on each but don’t miss what she says in her article.]

10 Core Principles for Remodeling Your Brain

1. Change is mostly limited to  those situations in which the brain is in the mood for it. We have to want to learn and change. If we give up, stay resigned to the status quo, or remain fed-up, change will not happen. Want change!

2. The harder you try, the more you’re motivated, the more alert you are, and the better (or worse)  the potential outcome, the bigger the brain change. Focus and persistence or key to mastery.

3. What actually changes in the brain are the strengths of the connections of neurons that are engaged together, moment by moment, in time. Practice strengthens pathways for behavior. Whether it’s learning a new computer system or developing a different way of communicating with a boss…practice hard-wires.

4. Learning-driven changes in connections increase cell-to cell cooperation, which is crucial for increasing reliability. I see this in musicians who live-stream and can read listener chats, respond to them, and continue playing all at the same time. Crazy.

5. The brain also strengthens its connections between teams of neurons representing separate moments of successive things that reliably occur in serial time. This is definitely the mechanism that gets us to our destination when we stop thinking about where we’re going.

6. Initial changes are temporary. Habit formation takes time, and somehow the brain interprets whether the change is vital. Amazing.

7. The brain is changed by internal mental rehearsal in the same ways and involving precisely the same processes that control changes achieved through interactions with the external world. At the simplest level, this is the mechanism of how we “talk ourselves through” a situation. Or when an athlete goes through his routine in his mind before he’s back out on the track or in the pool.

8. Memory guides and controls most learning. Our brain actually helps us to remember what we did well and discards what we didn’t.

9. Every movement of learning provides a moment of opportunity for the brain to stabilize — and reduce the disruptive power of — potentially interfering backgrounds or “noise.” The more we practice, either a physical skill or a way of thinking through a problem, we actually get better at it because somehow the brain reduces the background noise (which can include insecurity, fear of failure or self-doubt).

10. Brain plasticity is a two-way street; it is just as easy to generate negative changes as it is positive ones. Dr. Merzenich warns us, as we get older that we “use it or lose it” by our own decisions to stop learning and mastering new skills and behaviors.

Photo Credit: Commons Wikimedia

How are you using neuroplasticity to help you continue to grow in your work and personal life? Trevor Blake encourages us to set the tone of the day positively and don’t defect from that. Using self-defeating language can blur our focus and mental capacity for mastery. Read more of his excellent counsel here.

As we age, or give in to “what is” at the moment (tracks greased by depression sometimes, or perceived lack of ability or opportunity), we may not realize the great positive effects of neuroplasticity. However, the good news is that we can keep learning and changing and mastering what work and life and relationships bring our way. It’s never too late.

 

Neuroplasticity: Your Brain’s Amazing Ability to Form New Habits – Mike Torres

How to Rewire Your Brain for Success – Trevor Blake

Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life – Trevor Blake

Brain HQ Website

How Does Neuroplasticity Work – an Infographic

Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story – John Holt

Deadly: Brain on Multitasking – Bukunmi Adewumi

Toxic Thoughts – Dr. Caroline Leaf

Monday Morning Moment – How Are We Doing on Forming 5 Simple Habits that Lead to Success/Effectiveness?

Blog - Habits - CGInternationalincPhoto Credit: CGInternational

Habits. Daily routine. These are things we wrestle with. Fortunately the more we wrestle and stay on them, the more successful we are, and (hurrah!), the more our lives are positively effects. Ben Slater has posted a very doable routine in his piece 5 Simple Daily Habits That Lead to Ultimate Success. They are:

  1. Wake up early. Slater is not talking waking up early enough to just get to work on time. He’s talking 5ish. To wake up that early requires going to bed early…not just napping on the couch (guilty), but habitually, getting to bed early to get up early. This is determined by how much sleep you need…whether you’re a morning person or night person, that amount of time is pretty much set. “Sleeping in” – that weekend luxury – can derive negative gains. Is it worth it? Just asking the question he raises.Blog - Wake Up Early - Monday Morning - thefemalenetworkPhoto Credit: The Female Network
  2. Exercise regularly. OK, so nothing new, right? This is not about staying in shape, physique-wise. That could be a benefit of exercise, but the goal is to sweat! We know the great benefits to regular exercise, many of which are mental. Feeling happier is one. It’s making exercise a habit that’s key here – for all its physical, mental, emotional, and even vocational benefits.Blog - Exercise - breatheryPhoto Credit: Beamery
  3. Focus, don’t multitask. I have actually prided myself for years on the ability to multitask. No more. It’s possible it wreaked havoc on my memory and probably on the quality of my work and relationships. Slater talks about the importance of a daily routine of planning, execution, review and starting a plan for the next day. “Work out the 3-5 things that you need to accomplish over the course of the day and focus on them first.” Focus is key. I’m learning.Blog - Focus vs. Multitasking - massolutionsPhoto Credit: Massolutions
  4. Learn from mistakes.  When our day doesn’t go quite how we hoped, we too often default to blaming (too many meetings, interruptions, demanding bosses, time-wasters and trust-busters). We make mistakes in our decision-making and assessments; what’s important is that we deal with them humbly and proactively. Refuse to blame others. Learn from the mistake and move on. Sidebar: If it’s someone else’s mistake or poor judgment or questionable character, then learn from their mistakes as well. Don’t get muddled up, fuming about another, when your own life is at stake. You have it in you to control that.Blog - Learn from your mistakes - ultrapreneursayingsPhoto Credit: UltrapreneurSayings
  5. Make personal investments. What habits have you put in place to continue to grow and develop? Habits, not just hopes or goals set somewhere in the distant future. Slater observes: “The world’s most successful people are always prepared to invest time and resources in their own personal development. If you stripped someone like Bill Gates of his assets and dumped him on the street I’d be willing to bet he’d be ok – he’s constantly invested in himself and built up huge reserves of human capital, major companies would be falling over themselves to offer him a job.”  This is where weekly goals come in, and maybe a mentor…someone you trust who will help you stay accountable to your goals. Don’t miss this valuable habit…I definitely need more discipline in this area.Blog - Investing in yourself - salestrainingsolutionsPhoto Credit: SalesTrainingSolutions

I’ve written a lot in Monday Morning Moments about habit formation (see links below). There are so many great resources online about this important professional life skill. Slater’s article on these 5 simple daily habits reminded me again of how possible it is to know success/effectiveness if we do the work of putting these habits into our daily routine. I’m on it…once again. [Like with New Year’s Resolutions, we may not be successful over the long-haul with every one, but we move closer to goal every time we push in that direction.]

What are habits you have seen make a difference in your personal and professional day-to-day life? What habits would you like to make part of your daily routine? Please share in Comments.

15 Critical Habits of Mentally Strong People – Travis Bradberry

Habits of Successful People Who Always Reach Their Goals – SlideShare

Creating a Lasting Early Morning Routine – The Two Most Overlooked Aspects – Joel Gascoigne

Defend Your Research: The Early Bird really Does Get the Worm – Christoph Randler

Focus on Multi-Finishing Instead of MultiTasking – Dave Mastovich

Monday Morning Moment – Notes on Chris Bailey’s Life of Productivity – DebMillsWriter

Monday Morning Moment – Make Your Bed Every Morning and Be Ready to Change the World – DebMillsWriter

Monday Morning Moment – Screen Time – Give It a Rest – DebMillsWriter

Monday Morning Moment – Understanding True Habit Change and Rocking Your New Year’s Resolutions – DebMillsWriter

Addicted to Distraction and the Possibility of Restoring a Longer Attention Span

Blog - Addicted to distraction - diygeniusPhoto Credit: DIY Genius

Recently I was at a training event in a remote area where I had no cell phone service and limited internet. It meant I went through stressful training and at the same time experienced a forced exile from screen time. I don’t even have to tell you which was more challenging.

Growing up in my generation was very different than now – playing outside until dark, talking for hours on the phone with friends, falling asleep to the comforting drone of Mom and Dad talking and laughing in their bedroom down the hall. If you’ve ever seen the 1999 film October Sky, it makes me think of Dave’s growing up also – playing in the woods, biking everywhere, building rockets, hunting and fishing.Blog - Playing Outside - jeffs60sPhoto Credit: Jeffs60s

We are enjoying different advantages now for sure…I wonder how our grandchildren will one day describe their childhood. Having computers and the internet have been amazing assets to our lives. The dilemma is when our screen life becomes more engaging that our real life. When “Facetime” replaces face-to-face time.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the opportunity to see people via phone. For instance, friends of ours who got married recently had a small wedding, BUT they had a friend live-stream the wedding and all the rest of us got to “be there” via Periscope. Saw the kiss and everything. 2016 March 5 - Megan & Brian Wedding Kiss

There is something to be said about all the electronic capabilities we have today. For sure.BLog - Addicted to Distraction - littleredfrenchPhoto Credit: LittleRedFrench

The problem is when objects take command of our lives. These screens (phones, TV, computers) eat up so much of our day. Also, what about when we start exchanging real time relationships with the barest minimum associations via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? When a friend decided to go off Facebook, I was bummed… At that time, she lived 6 minutes from me. Not like my friends in Morocco or Egypt where I depend most on Facebook to keep up with them. She lives right here in town. We can have real coffee’s and real talks on the phone. Sigh… I had pretty much relegated keeping up with her to social media. Now we’re back affiliated only in real life where I might need to call her. Imagine.

I’ve written about this before (here) and want to manage my life better in this area. Multi-tasking was always something I thought was a strength, but now, getting older, it hasn’t helped me develop much of an attention span (see Charlie Munger’s thoughts on this here). It makes sense that thinking long and hard on something would have a powerful impact on our success or decision-making. Focus. Concentration. These are the things that have suffered in my life with all the distractions.

Kyle Pearce wrote a small piece on being distracted and introduced me to the work of Nicholas Carr (who wrote The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us). The 4-minute YouTube video below describes some of what he writes about:

Besides managing the distractedness in thinking, memory, and processing information, I want to nurture a habit of deep conversation. Sherry Turkle (author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other and Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age) writes about this and gives me hope.

Blog - Distracted - conversations - quotesgramPhoto Credit: QuotesGram

Turkle admits she loves computers because they have helped her make tremendous strides in writing, but they are not people. She writes as if she’s reading my heart. This disconnected connection we experience with one another is so illusory.

“Networked, we are together, but so lessened are our expectations of each other that we can feel utterly alone. And there is the risk that we come to see others as objects to be accessed—and only for the parts we find useful, comforting, or amusing.” – Sherry Turkle
Here’s my hope and vision – to re-learn how to really be connected with people, including myself. To practice solitude. To quit living the excuse of being distractible. To learn how to think and work deeply, and to remember how to have deep, thoughtful conversations again.
I’m not prepared to stop using my phone for information, nor am I able to quit using the internet as a resource for work and life, but it’s entirely possible to restrict connection time.  Also, it’s exciting to think of how I might use that time I waste on the internet to actually be with friends and loved ones…to read more books…to rediscover what is right in front of me in real life…to know what it’s like to have (and enjoy) a quiet mind.

The good news is that the process of withdrawal is simple and the healing is spontaneous; because it is only the continuous high volume consumption of mass media that is keeping us sick. So, at root, the detox programme is merely a matter of Just. Say. No.” – Bruce G. Charlton

What might the next generation be like if our grandchildren are nurtured in this way? How can we help them have such mental muscle and true sociability that they could avoid being addicted to distraction?

It’s something to think about…off-line. Gone to find a real face and give that face my full attention.

Distracted? This is How the Internet is Changing Your Brain by Kyle Pearce

Multitasking – Giving the World an Advantage It Shouldn’t Have – Farnam Street Blog

Are We Addicted to Distraction? by Sophie at LittleRedFrench

The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us by Nicholas Carr

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman – originally written in 1985, brilliantly prophetic of the future (updated in 2015)