Neuroscience has become a bit of a buzz word in business these days. And rightly so, as it allows us to understand how our brains actually work. Once we know this, we can work with them, so that we can be at our sharpest, most productive, most creative and, frankly, be of most value to the companies we work for.
This feels like a no-brainer. But old habits die hard and modern working practices have unfortunately been encouraging us to work not with but despite our brains for too long, and we’re struggling to actually apply what we now know from neuroscience into the practical every day of our businesses. We’ve sort of known that “work smarter not harder” has been a more effective maxim than “work hard, play hard” for some time, yet we still tell ourselves that we’ll eat lunch at our desks, forego breaks and be in 24-hour contact with the office in order to get the most work done. This is anything but smart when it comes to keeping our brains in good working order, which we need them to be to be effective at our jobs.
So what can you do? I’ve recently been trialing a new workshop, called the Power Up, designed to help maintain a healthy brain, based on insights from neuroscience. Just as you keep your body healthy by going to the gym, you can also build in brain exercises during your week to keep you at your best. I call this yoga for the brain. By allowing your brain some time to “exercise” away from its normal daily tasks at work, you’re encouraging it to remain in an overall much healthier state. Just as an athlete doesn’t only train one group of muscles to be at peak in their sport, we need to train all areas of our brain to help it function the best when we need it the most.
Here’s how it works:
- Taking an hour out of your normal routine will introduce novelty to your day, which your brain loves already because it releases dopamine to make you feel good. The Power Up workshop is full of activities that are designed to make your brain work in novel ways, interrupting the repetitive thinking we get used to doing during the everyday, which is known to boost creativity and productivity.
- In doing this, blood flow around the brain is increased, and areas that are usually not active are activated. This has the potential to create new neural pathways, effectively linking areas of the brain together better, so that you can access new thinking more quickly.
- Games and activities in the workshop often have a competitive element – whether with yourself or with others – which we know to release certain hormones, like dopamine and adrenaline, that boost motivation and focus.
- Many of the games stretch your memory skills, which again helps to strengthen connections in the brain and develop mental agility and creativity.
- Power Up workshops are designed to be fun and build in time for laughter, which we all know makes us feel good and puts us in a better place to do good work. But the reason it does this is because it releases the hormone oxytocin – also known as the love drug – which makes us feel warmer to others thus strengthening bonds with colleagues and encouraging cooperation. An essential ingredient in productivity.
- The workshops are physical so not only give your brains a break from their usual tasks, but also help to get your whole body moving, your blood pumping and your core muscles engaged so that an afternoon at your desk afterwards can feel more comfortable. You can’t look after the brain without also doing something with your body, and vice-versa.
- Finally, the workshop builds in time to let your brain wind down. This activates something called the default mode network which essentially puts your brain into standby while it lets thoughts and ideas percolate. The default mode network is typically strong in Buddhist monks who practice mindfulness throughout the day. Having given your brain some time to rest in this state it will be fitter, stronger and more ready to engage in the tasks ahead, and research has shown that this in itself can boost creativity (a bit like those amazing ideas that come to you in the shower when you’re not thinking about anything in particular)
So far, the Power Up workshops have gone down incredibly well with delegates claiming to feel “lifted,” “realigned,” and “energetic” when they go back to their desks afterwards. I will be rolling them out to more and more companies over the coming months, and may even run some open morning and lunchtime sessions so if you are interested then please do get in touch!
In the meantime, remember to keep that brain in good shape. There’s lots of practical tips and tricks for how you can do this while you’re at work on my blog page so do check that out.