3 Steps to Chaos-Proof Your Brain
Entrepreneurs these days are bombarded with e-mails and information from the moment they grab their smartphones in the morning until they click their laptops closed before bed. Social networks and the chattering media provide a constant background hum of possible risks, opportunities, competitors, and irrelevancies. Sometimes it's just plain over-stimulating.
Some of us are naturally awesome at rising above the mess or disciplining it with routines and organization. Others feel like they're being driven slowly insane. If you fall in the latter group, and you're a business owner, you can't cut yourself off from messy reality—your business requires you to stay plugged in. So what can you do? Train your brain to deal with it, Margaret Moore, the founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, recently told Big Think. In the article, Moore explains why contemporary life can be so taxing to our brains:
It's about self-regulation, a skill that is developed by the pre-frontal cortex–the seat of executive function in the brain. The left pre-frontal cortex regulates your attention: it evaluates, judges, makes decisions. Modern life, with its barrage of incoming e-mails and phone calls and texts, taxes the pre-frontal cortex, inhibiting the brain's ability to focus. Those who have naturally strong self-regulation can handle the overload—and those who don't are left feeling guilty and out of control.
If you're the type of person who feels constantly stressed out by the chaotic life of the modern entrepreneur, it is possible to train your brain to cope better, according to Moore. What does she suggest?
- Remember that the way your brain functions has advantages. Those with low executive function have "better access to their emotions. That's generalizing a lot, but those folks… are very good at living the moment, very good at connecting, they've got great emotional intelligence, they can pick up other people's emotions—but they can't find their keys," says Moore. You may be struggling with information overload but remind yourself that weakness in one area comes with a positive flipside to reject feelings of guilt or inadequacy.
- Acknowledge your negative emotions. "When you have negative emotions, they have a message to give you—and they're very good at getting it through," says Moore. "Stress is the trigger for learning and growth. Stress is what makes us accomplish things. It's not that it's bad. It's part of life…. but it doesn't help when it's time to sit down and work on something for 30 minutes. Naming the emotion, giving it a language, in an empathetic caring way—just a little self-empathy instead of 'I'm an idiot for feeling like this'—that in itself can shift it."
- Take control of your internal script. It is possible to learn to react differently to stress, according to Moore, who suggests "using your brain's most precious resource, which is your attention." How do you do this? "By talking to your irrational emotions. Then practice changing the negative self-talk." Big Think concludes: "If you learn how your brain works and work with it, you can start to exercise more cognitive control over your own functioning."
Moore's prescription for chaos-proofing your brain, which is well worth a read in full, has a lot in common with speaking coach Olivia Mitchell's ideas for handling public speaking stress. Both boil down to calmly listening to your emotions, thinking about them and consciously shifting your interior monologue. It might not be as easy to do as it is to explain, but both experts insist it is possible.
Do you have any other strategies for helping you brain cope with the chaos of modern life?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.