Leadership tycoon Warren Bennis once said, “We seem to collect information because we have the ability to do so, but we are so busy collecting it that we haven’t devised a means of using it. The true measure of any society is not what it knows but what it does with what it knows.”
There is a wealth of information at our disposal today on the latest discoveries in brain science. While we enjoy reading about these findings and expanding our intellect, how many of us actually apply these concepts?
We can either drown in this information or turn it into a lifesaver by extracting its practical knowledge. This article offers several important tips based on discoveries in brain research that can help us improve our personal and professional lives, as well as help others in our sphere of influence.
Use visualization to learn a new skill
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to continuously create new neural pathways. When we repeat a skill that we are trying to master, we strengthen the neural networks that represent that action. The same happens physically in the brain whether we perform the action, or simply visualize it—Your brain cannot tell the difference between an action you performed and an action you visualized.
In a Harvard University study, two groups of volunteers were presented with a piece of unfamiliar piano music. One group received the music and a keyboard, and was told to practice. The other group was instructed to just read the music and imagine playing it. When their brain activity was examined, both groups showed expansion in their motor cortex, even though the second group had never touched a keyboard.
Albert Einstein, who is credited with saying that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” used visualization throughout his entire life. Why not take advantage of what we know about brain plasticity and take the time to add visualization as part of your rehearsals of anything you are trying to master, such as delivering a flawless presentation?
Achieve your goals by keeping your mouth shut
This idea was popularized by Derek Sivers, a professional musician, in his presentation at TED. As he explains, psychology tests have proven that when you tell someone your goal, and they acknowledge it, you are less likely to do the work to realize that goal. This is because your brain mistakes the talking for the doing—that is, the gratification that the social acknowledgment brings tricks your brain into feeling that the goal has already been accomplished. The satisfaction you experience in the telling removes the motivation to do whatever it takes to actually make it happen.
Heed this information and keep your goals to yourself. It might just spur you to work harder to achieve an important goal.
Smile to improve your mood
The Facial Feedback Hypothesis indicates that facial expressions representative of an emotion trigger changes in your body that are similar to those that happen when you experience the actual emotion. For example, your brain cannot tell the difference between a posed smile or a genuine smile. A posed smile will elicit, physiologically, the same pleasure or happiness response as a genuine smile. Your facial muscles cue your brain to experience that positive emotion. Taking notice of this, consider how this information can help you to regulate some of your emotional reactions by controlling your facial expressions.
Try this the next time you are in a bad mood: Instead of frowning, which reinforces a negative mood, consider smiling. Research has shown that by doing so, you are likely to experience a more positive mood.
Understand the physiology of emotional pain to develop empathy
Research at the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University discovered that social or emotional pain is as real and intense as physical pain. The same brain networks are activated when a person experiences a physical injury as when they go through a painful emotional experience. Your brain cannot distinguish between physical and emotional pain.
“While both types of pain can hurt very much at the time they occur,” says Kip Williams, Ph.D., “social pain has the unique ability to come back over and over again, whereas physical pain lingers only as an awareness that it was indeed at one time painful.” Consider for a moment that when we hurt someone emotionally, it may very well be the equivalent of breaking one of their bones. We can create a better world in our sphere of influence just by being mindful of this thought and using it to help develop our empathy towards others.
Lower your stress level by managing your thoughts
There is ample research proving that your brain cannot tell the difference between a real and imagined threat; the physical response is the same. In
Mystic Cool: A Proven Approach to Transcend Stress, Achieve Optimal Brain Function, and Maximize Your Creative Intelligence, Don Joseph Goewey provides a powerful tool—called the Clear Button—to thwart fearful thoughts and stop the escalating stress. This 10-second strategy works because it creates a distraction from the primitive brain where fear resides. Care to test it out? Follow these steps.
- Imagine that there is a button in the center of your left palm; imagine that this button, when pressed, will send a signal to your brain to stop the fearful thinking.
- Press the button with your right hand as you become aware of your breath.
- Take three easy breaths counting them out.
- Imagine a different color for each number.
- As you exhale, relax in the present moment.
Parker J. Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal once said, “Science requires an engagement with the world, a live encounter between the knower and the known.” In other words, knowing is not enough. We do ourselves and others a great disservice when we don’t decide to act on the gift of knowledge. It’s the difference between hording information and developing wisdom.