Brain fitness - your way to success!
Most of us understand and store faith in our personal physical fitness to keep healthy. If you read an earlier blog of mine (entitled ‘Pickles and George’) you will see that it is one of my New Year’s resolution to maintain personal fitness through guidance and punishment(!) from Arron Whalley, my personal trainer.
So far so good! It has taken 5 years to reach this stage but only after tearing both my right knee ligaments whilst skiing last season. It was not to do with skiing itself, I add hastily, but my reaction to a difficulty which could have been avoided had I been fit. It also does no good to ski when tired. However, having given the sport a miss this season, I intend to clamber back up onto the slopes and continue my quest to conquer a difficult black from 2018. On future excursions, erring on the side of caution will be my mantra!
After having taken time out from the commercial world to conceive, nurture and educate my son (in the holistic sense) I realised that my ability to focus, remember, plan, organise and solve problems had slowed down but otherwise not diminished. These functions are controlled by the cognitive part of our brain which can be divided into 5 areas: executive function, working memory, possessing speed, episodic memory and attention. In order to get back up to 5th gear, there are apparently 10 brain exercises one ought to adopt and make into habit (just as physical training);
Executive Function is our ability to plan, organise and be creative.
- This is the most significant function for leaders and for those like me who run their own business. As you become busy it is tempting to delegate. Do so but retain or take back some planning roles so those skills are not lost. This also allows you to retain a healthy influence over the business.
- Hold regular monthly meetings and encourage debates. Constructive criticism is good as having to clarify and defend your position will test your convictions and keep you in focus. Also your behaviour towards others may be called into question and this platform should be used to flush out any issues or problems.
Working Memory is the part of your brain which stores information which you access when needed. So ultimately it is your ability to make decisions and solve problems.
- Meetings should be informative so teach (and learn twice) by explaining ideas, concepts and work processes. This helps you to consolidate information and archive it as long term memory. It also helps your workforce/team to understand what is expected of them. Heaven forbid that I bring President Trump as a good example of someone who does just this (rightly or wrongly).
- A regular sleep schedule is essential to learning and memory as well as health and well being. The majority of us need around 8 hours sleep to feel ideally rested.
Processing speed is our ability to speak well and articulate our thoughts so speed and accuracy are essential.
- Speed meetings help attendees to be concise and focused and eliminate a lot of wasted time so cut back and save!
- Socialising flexes cognitive skills and boosts our mood and confidence so maintaining an active and diverse social life is important. Diversity is my forte! Last week, for example, I have attended a Highland Ceilidh, a theatre performance and an exhibition on ‘Australian Impressionists’ as well as a talk at the National Gallery. I enclose below my favourite exhibits;
- Diversifying who you attend functions with is also important so leave the partner behind and take a friend or your child, nephew/nieces instead or indeed no one. This will allow conversations to flow from a different perspective and for others to freely approach you without perhaps being on their guard.
Episodic memory is the ability to recall people, events and places in context to a relevant situation. It helps to learn from experiences and impart wisdom onto others.
- Use mnemonic imagery to recall a list of individual items in a sequence. This exercise is apparently more effective than learning by rote and will enable you to recount information quickly and succinctly.
- Positive relationships help people not only to live longer but also to have a better quality of life and help against memory loss. Don’t take people for granted and don’t let others do likewise and show respect and kindness by acknowledging good achievements.
Attention is the ability to concentrate and focus even when being distracted. Cardiovascular fitness has been clinically proven to increase our ability to have a good attention span so hit the gym, walk whenever you can and take the stairs to keep you sharper and energised for longer.
- Talk less, listen more to family, friends and work colleagues so you are better equipped to read situations and crucially to hear what is not being said. Great leaders are after all, intuitive listeners.