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Entrepreneurial Success Starts With Training Your Brain

Entrepreneurial Success Starts With Training Your Brain

Have you ever read about the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur and wondered if you really have it in you to be one? On a bad day, many of us fall prey to self-doubt. The good news is that even if we fall short of certain qualities, it’s not the end of the world! Science tells us that we have the ability to turn ourselves into the people we want to be thanks to the wonderful phenomenon called neuroplasticity!

In fact, our brains can be thought of as malleable plastic — they are constantly being changed by our day-to-day experiences. In scientific terms, neuroplasticity refers to the “rewiring” of the neurons that process and transmit information in the brain, and the alterations that occur at synapses (the gaps between neurons that allow for information to be transmitted between them).

When it comes to neuroplasticity, one of the key things to keep in mind is that neural pathways (paths that connect different areas of the brain and nervous system) can not only be created at will, but can also be eliminated. Every time we learn something new or have a novel idea, a new pathway is created. The more we use this pathway (through practice and repetition), the firmer and more ingrained it becomes; likewise, the less we use it, the weaker it becomes, until it is eventually forgotten.

Neuroplasticity is important because it shows:

1. It’s hard to change a mindset and its accompanying habits, but it’s possible: think of your brain as host to countless nerve battles. Studies have shown that it is actually more difficult to unlearn a bad habit than it is to learn a new one — this is called competitive plasticity. The more we repeat a bad habit, the more control it has over a brain map; so naturally, old bad habits have a competitive edge over our new ones; the important thing is to keep going — your new habits will eventually win the battles!

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2. You always have the power to change yourself: No matter how old you are, deliberate practice, as well as rest and maintenance, can result in successful neuroplasticity. So if you think you can’t change the way you think, you are the only one standing in your way.

Do successful entrepreneurs think differently?

So our brains can be trained, but is there one specific entrepreneurial mindset that we need to aim for in order to become successful? While there isn’t one specific key to success, studies have shown that successful entrepreneurs do tend to have some cognitive processes in common.

1. An ambidextrous mind

An ambidextrous mind is one that is able to strategically go back and forth between two problem-solving strategies:

1. exploration (this is a creative approach in which your mind explores innovative new solutions/alternatives to problems)

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2. exploitation (this is a more logical approach in which your mind uses existing information in the most efficient way possible).

Research conducted by a team of MIT researchers suggests that being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t simply mean having the ability to switch between strategies, but also knowing the most optimal time to do so — it’s all in the timing!

2. The ability to embrace change and challenges

The brain scans of 30 entrepreneurs were compared to those of 30 non-entrepreneurs while they carried out various activities. It was evident in the study that when it came to rapid problem-solving, timely risk assessment, embracing challenges and seizing opportunities, successful entrepreneurs could be counted on to come first in a series of tasks.

Both of the above two points rely heavily on a person’s mindset. Want to have the mindset of a successful entrepreneur? You’ve got to work for it!

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Become the architect of your brain

In order to build up our physical muscles, we train them through a variety of physical exercises — we shouldn’t treat the brain any differently! Training the brain with mental exercises will help your neurons to develop stronger connections, and will prepare your brain to accept new connections a lot easier. Below are three ways that you can get started on training your brain for success.

1. Brain training games

There are hundreds of different games available that allow you to work on important brain functions such as memory; you can improve your intelligence while actually having fun! Lumosity is one such tool that encompasses a variety of games and activities for different aims and objectives; Brain Metrix is another.

2. Awareness

You have around 60 000 thoughts bombarding your mind every day, and you need to be aware of the ones that limit you. You need to be aware of your thoughts, (which collectively means your mindset) and catch the ones that are not aligned with your goals and then, replace it with one that is. YES, you will need to do this over and over again, but eventually, the new will become the old.

3. Mindset reinforcing tools

Consistently reinforcing your desired behavior and beliefs is crucial if they’re ever to become second nature to you. Repeating the thoughts you want to have and using tools that allow for subliminal messages of your choice to appear on your computer screen, for example, will allow you to work on making the necessary changes to your subconscious mind (the power of which should not be underestimated).

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4. Rest and sleep

In his studies of neuroplasticity, Norman Doidge observed the “Monday effect.” He noticed that the plasticity mechanisms being used by the participants on Mondays versus Fridays were markedly different. While the changes on Friday had more to do with strengthening neuron pathways, the changes on Monday had more do with the formation of new ones that took longer to form, but were more permanent.

Put simply, having a well-rested brain won’t necessarily help you learn things quicker, but it will help you make more permanent changes! Getting enough sleep, meditating and not being too hard on yourself can make a huge difference.

When it comes to neuroplasticity, learning how to keep going is key. Find the right techniques for you, keep at them and you’re eventually going to see results — science is on your side!

Featured photo credit: http://getrefe.tumblr.com/ via 66.media.tumblr.com

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Kirstin O´Donovan

Certified Life and Productivity Coach, Founder and CEO of TopResultsCoaching

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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