You might have noticed in the past decade we have learnt more about the human brain than in all the time since we started walking upright.
It sure helps that we can now see a living working brain in action as compared to simply guessing about how our grey matter functioned from the outside – or by studying dead ones.
As a result, a lot of what we used to believe is no longer true.
This is just like a leader in any organisation who consistently must check whether the assumptions they held yesterday still hold for today.
Based on some recent observations in neuroscience, here are three myths that need to be busted…
1 Left and Right Brain – Yes, we do have a left and right hemisphere in our brains. And it is no longer accurate to say someone is only using their left or right brain. It’s a metaphor. While the brain does have specialist areas for things like images and language, we all use both sides of our brain for almost every task.
2 We Only Use 10% of Our Brain – If you’ve ever done a lot of exercise and then stopped you’ll know that we lose our muscle and body tone really quickly. Our brain is like a muscle in that the more we use it the better it gets. And when we stop using it, well… it wastes away. So we’re effectively using 100% of our brains most of the time – although I’m sure you often see behaviour that makes this very hard to believe!
3 Getting Old – Yes, it is true we are all getting older and as we do our minds and bodies start to slow down. However, this is only half of the story. The other reason we get older is because we stop doing the things we used to do. The brain is plastic and will continue to learn if we simply continue to feed it with new things to learn.
And now for three legends of the brain that deserve your attention…
1 Take More Breaks – The new way to talk about the two halves of the brain is the uptime and the downtime brain. The uptime brain does all our task-focused work – doing spreadsheets, thinking in meetings and working out what to do next. The downtime brain is when we stop doing tasks and we let our brains create a background story for what is going on. For instance, coming up with new ideas in the shower or thinking about things in new ways while walking the dog. The net result is that most of us need more downtime thinking. More specifically, we’ll get more done if we take more breaks. And this includes a break from our so-called ‘smart’ devices too.
2 A Future Modelling Tool – The old view of the brain is that it was like a computer because it was good at remembering lots of stuff and it can do a modest range of calculations and thinking. The neuroscientists are now talking about our brains as the ultimate tool for modelling future scenarios. Worrying about any future event that hasn’t happened and probably won’t happen is exactly what our brains have evolved to do – keep us safe and alive. We can use this to our advantage to plot, plan and scheme for good things to happen in our organisations and lives. Or we can daydream about the grass being greener somewhere other than here.
3 Always Training – every action we take is training our brain to take future action. It’s important to be aware that you can train your brain into habits you don’t want –for example, distraction and disengagement. Next time you get distracted doing a daily task such as standing in line at the supermarket, become aware of this. The downside of this malleability is that it is easy to create bad habits. The upside is that it’s easy to create good habits too. Become aware of the habits you are creating.
The power to consciously create personal and organizational habits is one of the most powerful things to come out of the neuroscience research.
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