Recently, my editor invited me to write an advice letter to my 17-year-old self. It was an opportunity to reflect on the many benefits of 50+ years life experience. Of course, the flip side was realizing lost benefits of youth. The mature brain may be wiser, but even my simple "senior moments" like loss of thinking speed and recall can be a bit unsettling (particularly to my wife.) Since I am a physically fit guy, and I'd like to make sure my brain stays as sharp as my body in my upcoming golden years, I did a little digging into the subject of brain fitness.
YPO member Tej Tadi is a neuroscientist and now the founder and CEO of MindMaze. He has made it his life's work to learn about the functioning of the brain, and his company is at the forefront of brain technology.
Working at the intersection of neuroscience and computing, MindMaze is building the next generation of mind/machine interactions designed to improve lives through healthcare products and beyond. Tadi thinks everyone should know about the ownership, maintenance, and care of their human brain. Here is where you can start.
- Every brain is wired in its own unique way.
That means you need to find methods that fit with how you personally learn. Tadi explains: "Everyone learns and communicates differently and each learning style uses different parts of the brain. For example, auditory learners use hearing to process information while visual learners rely on seeing to learn. If you want to get the most from a learning experience, find a strategy that offers more than the sum of single stimulation. The best bet is to find multimodal learning strategies." The same is true for others around you--don't assume they can benefit from the same modalities that are optimal for you.
- It's never too late to learn.
"Neuroplasticity lasts throughout your life," he insists, "so it is never too late to begin learning new things." In fact, new knowledge builds on existing information in the brain, so the more you know the better you will be able to learn in the future. "The important thing to remember is that learning requires repeatable goal directed tasks. If you have a goal or specific target and can combine repeatable tasks, it will consolidate memory in your brain and improve executive function." Leaders can put this to work for their own growth, and also for those they lead. Challenge others to take on new projects and opportunities, and lead by example.
- Physical activity benefits mental health.
According to Tadi, the brain needs chemicals like endorphins that are released through exercise. "Physical activity stimulates the release of growth factors--chemicals that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells. It changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills." The easiest exercise regimen to stick to is the one you like best. Consistency is key, so find an activity you love and can enjoy throughout your life.
- The brain is the original social network.
Tadi describes the importance of mirror neurons, "brain cells that fire both when a person acts and that person observes the same action performed by another person." The action, execution and observation system helps in fine tuning abilities like empathy and understanding. "If you can't put yourself in another person's shoes," he says, "you'll never be an effective leader. Make an effort to develop your self-awareness and empathy skills through active listening, reading, or looking at another person's point of view. Get a coach if you just can't seem to develop these on your own."
- Every brain has emotional triggers.
While every brain is capable of reason, no brain makes every decision from a rational place. Emotions can have a strong impact, and can even overrule logical thought. Emotions also feed into reward and punishment systems. Positive feedback is a better long-term motivator than fear or embarrassment, but negative feedback can create aversions or avoidance that affect your performance (or your employees'). "In a new, difficult, or stressful situation," Tadi suggests, "learn to listen and absorb questions first. Don't be pushed into an immediate response, but learn to self-regulate your emotions first. It will put you in a better position to make decisions with a rational perspective." If you learn to consider the impact of others' emotions on their thought processes, you will also become better at convincing or motivating them.
Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.