Let's start with a confession. As a man of a certain age I've occasionally started to need to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night. The inevitable march of age takes no prisoners. But what's possibly a bigger confession is that I often find myself reading and answering an email or two while I'm up and out of bed. It's a busy life.
Like never before it seems we are required to multi-task, to take on more and more work and responsibility and stress, and to never truly switch off. Who decided this is how things should be? Is it really the best way to operate? How can we regain clarity and focus and think and act creatively in such a demanding business world?
I had chance last year to chat with Ann Zuccardy. Ann suffered a brain injury at the age of 54, in the midst of a fast-paced career in communications. Having slipped whilst getting out of a bath, banging her forehead hard, Ann suffered a "coup contrecoup" brain injury. She found herself unable to do a lot of the things she'd previously taken for granted. As an initial part of her recovery she was advised to do nothing for three months. No reading, no trips, no TV. She was told to just purely rest, to help her brain recover and repair. It drove her nuts. And in reading widely about the topic of the brain and how it learns, she decided to fight back, and to rewire her brain to get back some of the high functioning she'd enjoyed. But it also helped her redefine what she thought of as smart. Smart wasn't about qualifications, study and insight, smart was about the craving to learn and being creative to solve problems.
Here's four takeaways from my chat with Ann that will rewire your brain and get the smart juices flowing:
1. Do something familiar in an unfamiliar way
The bias of experience will always try and win the day when we encounter a task or problem to solve. But just because you've always approached something in one particular way doesn't mean you can't explore another. It may be better, it may be worse, but it's important to try. Ann makes the suggestion of eating a meal with your non-dominant hand. You make a mess a few times but soon the brain learns what's happening - it's called neuroplasticity- and you gain a new skill. What problems are you facing that are worth a totally different approach?
2. Turn off your multi-tasking auto-pilot
We have all been convinced we should be adaptable multi-taskers. Any reluctance or resistance to multi-tasking is seen as a weakness, and, above all, we all have so much to do these days that multi-tasking is inevitable. Ann was the same, but her injury means she can't even attempt to multi-task anymore. And its made her conclude that, actually, we're not natural multi-taskers. Asking the brain to keep so many plates spinning means a loss of focus, a lack of creative thinking and an inability to be in the moment and enjoy what we're doing. If you want to focus and find a creative solution to a problem, don't pile it on top of other issues. Get out and walk in the fresh air. Turn off the auto-pilot you're using to try and steer a course through the fog of distraction. In giving the brain room to think you're far more likely to find the answer you need.
3. Listen, question, and play
As youngsters, we're always listening to new things. We're always questioning, we're always exploring, soaking up knowledge and learning skills. And often while having a ton of fun and laughing a lot at the same time. So why do we lose that? Being grown up isn't about closing off avenues of learning and enjoyment. Keep a sense of fun in what you do. Look for the humor no matter how difficult the circumstances. Keep asking questions and make sure you listen properly to the answers. Show empathy for what you are hearing. Be more curious the older and more experienced that you get.
4. Grow your resilience muscle
The ability to bounce back from whatever setbacks temporarily knock us off our stride is also a great opportunity to develop more creative ways of going about things. Ann has had to rebuild her life and career by finding new ways to do some of the things that we all take for granted. Work with what you've got and creatively build resilience to help you face every challenge head-on.