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If You Play Any Musical Instruments, Your Brain Is Very Different From Others’

If You Play Any Musical Instruments, Your Brain Is Very Different From Others’

For many people, it’s something that’s been endlessly on the to-do list. I’ll take up the guitar. I’ll join a jazz band. If you can play a musical instrument, well done, you are doing something because you’re passionate about it. It takes dedication and willpower to become a good musician. For those who are undecided, on the verge of taking one up —as if you really need anymore reasons— here is proof of the benefits of playing a musical instrument.

Learning An Instrument Accelerates Brain Development

Neuroscientists at USC recently carried out a study[1] examining the impact of music instruction on children’s social, emotional and cognitive development.

The study results show that music-learning speeds up the development of the auditory pathway in the brain and increases its efficiency.

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The study’s lead author, Assal Habibi, talked about his team’s findings:

“These results reflect that children with music training, compared with the two other comparison groups, were more accurate in processing sound.”[2]

Music learning very much trains the brain like a muscle. This has also been shown by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. They discovered that male musicians have larger brains than men who have not had extensive musical training.[3]

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The Special Connection In Their Brains

We won’t go as far as saying that people who play music can read each other’s minds but there is a real alignment in the parts of the brain that deal with music production and social cognition. A 2012 study[4] undertaken in Berlin shows that guitarists that are playing together undergo a pretty incredible synchronization of their brains during, and even just before, playing.[5]

Another study[6] looked at “the neural basis of creativity” by scanning guitarists while they played improv. The researchers found that, whilst playing, these guitarists momentarily deactivate a region of the brain associated with conscious thought.

Seen any instrument player live go into a solo? A great player can make a complex musical passage seem easier than it is. The truth is that, in a way, it is. The practice it took to get there wasn’t easy, but playing often doesn’t entail a conscious strained effort.

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The More Symmetrical Brains

If that weren’t amazing enough, piano players come into a whole different league.[7]

Whilst guitar-playing favors left-handed dexterity (and vice versa for left-handed players), piano players learn to hit different notes with both hands while navigating between 88 keys.

Learning the piano from a young age has an impressive effect on the brain development; amazingly, it has the effect of making a person’s brain more symmetrical.

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According to a study[8], the reason for this is that piano players have to overcome a characteristic that is innate in the vast majority of people, the favoring of one hand over the other. The central sulcus is a region of the brain that determines which hand is dominant. For most people, this region goes deeper on one side than the other determining which hand is dominant.

For piano players, there is a clearly demonstrable difference to the majority of other people. The central sulcus is much more symmetrical.

It may sound like we’re saying piano playing is great because it makes your brain look aesthetically pleasing. Of course the effects is further reaching and not quite as absurd. Several studies point towards piano playing making the brain run much more efficiently overall.

That also leads us to think if all the percussion instruments that involve both hands actually have the same effect too, say for drums players.

There’s More To Musicians Than Just Being Good At Music

So if you want to enhance your brain power, there it is. It has been proven that musicians have different connections within their brain. This doesn’t only mean they’re good at music as well. Learning a musical instrument is a great passion project that can benefit your life in many different ways.

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Christopher Young

Freelance Blogger, Writer and Journalist

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Published on July 29, 2020

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

Have you been thinking of how you can be a more strategic leader during these uncertain times? Has the pandemic thrown a wrench at all your carefully laid out plans and initiatives?

You’re not alone. The truth is, we all want some stability in our careers and teams during this disruptive pandemic.

However, this now requires a bit more effort than before and making the leap from merely surviving to thriving means buckling down to some serious strategic thinking and maintaining a determined mindset.

Is There a Way to Thrive Despite These Disruptions?

Essentially – yes, although you need to be willing to put in the work. Every leader wants to develop strategic thinking skills so that they can enhance overall team performance and boost their company’s success, but what exactly does it mean to be strategic in the context of the times we live in?

If you happen to be in a leadership position in your organization right now, you are most probably navigating precarious waters given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. There’s a lot more pressure than before because your actions and decisions will have a much greater impact these days not just on you, but also to the people who are part of your team.

Companies often bring me in to coach executives on strategic thinking and planning. And while pre-pandemic I would usually start by highlighting the advantages of strategic thinking, nowadays, I always begin these Zoom coaching sessions by driving home the point that this pandemic has now made strategic thinking not just an option but an absolute must.

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Assessing and making plans through the lens of a good strategy might require significant work at first. Nevertheless, you can take comfort in the fact that the rewards will far outweigh the effort, as you’ll soon see after following the 8 strategic steps I have outlined below.

8 Steps to Strategic Thinking

As events unfold during these strange times, you’re bound to feel wrong-footed every now and then. Being a leader during this pandemic means preparing for more change not just for you, but for your whole team as well.

As states and cities go through a cycle of lockdowns and reopening, employees will experience the full gamut of human emotions in dizzying speed, and you will often be called on to provide insight and stability to your team and workplace.

Strategic thinking is all about anticipation and preparation. Rather than expending your energy merely helping your company put out fires and survive, you can put the time to better use by charting out a solid plan that can protect and help you and your company thrive.

Take the following steps to build solid initiatives and roll out successful projects:

Step 1: Step Back, Then Set the Scope

One of the things that leaders get wrong during their first attempt at strategic thinking is expecting that it is just another item on a checklist. The truth is, you need to take a good, long look at the bigger picture before anything else. This means decisively prioritizing and stepping away from tasks that can be delegated to others. Free up your schedule so you can focus on this crucial task at hand.

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Then, proceed with setting the scope and the strategic goals of the project or initiative you plan to build or execute. Ask yourself the bigger question of why you need to embark on a particular project and when would be the right time to do so.

You need to set a timeline as well, anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. Keep in mind that your projections will deteriorate the further out you go as you make longer-term plans.

For this reason, add extra resources, flexibility, and resilience if you have a longer timeline. You should also be making the goals less specific if you’re charting it out for the longer term.

Step 2: Make a List of Experts

Make and keep a list of credible people who can contribute solid insight and feedback to your initiative. This could range from key stakeholders to industry experts, mentors, and even colleagues who previously planned and rolled out similar projects.

Reach out to the people on this list regularly while you work through the steps to bring diverse insight into your planning process. This way, you will be able to approach any problem from every angle.

Bringing key stakeholders into this initial process will also display your willingness to listen and empathize with their issues. In return, this will build trust and potentially pave the way for smoother buy-in down the line.

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Step 3: Anticipate the Future

After identifying your goals and gathering feedback, it’s time to consider what the future would look like if everything goes as you intuitively anticipate. Then, lay out the kind and amount of resources (money, time, social capital) that might be needed to keep this anticipated future running.

Step 4: Brainstorm on Potential Internal and External Problems

Next, think of how the future would look if you encountered unexpected problems internal and external to the business activity that seriously jeopardize your expected vision of the future. Write out what kind of potential problems you might encounter, including low-probability ones.

Assess the likelihood that you will run into each problem. To gauge, multiply the likelihood by the number of resources needed to address the problem. Try to convert the resources into money if possible so that you can have a single unit of measurement.

Then, think of what steps you can take to address these internal and external problems before they even happen. Write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Lastly, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different possible problems and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

Step 5: Identify Potential Opportunities, Internal and External

Imagine how your expected plan would look if unexpected opportunities came up. Most of these will be external but consider internal ones as well. Then, gauge the likelihood of each scenario and the number of resources you would need to take advantage of each opportunity. Convert the resources into money if possible.

Then, think of what steps you can take in advance to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Finally, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different unexpected opportunities and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

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Step 6: Check for Cognitive Biases

Check for potential cognitive biases that are relevant to you personally or to the organization as a whole, and adjust the resources and plans to address such errors.[1] Make sure to at least check for loss aversion, status quo bias, confirmation bias, attentional bias, overconfidence, optimism bias, pessimism bias, and halo and horns effects.

Step 7: Account for Unknown Unknowns (Black Swans)

To have a more effective strategy, account for black swans as well. These are unknown unknowns -unpredictable events that have potentially severe consequences.

To account for these black swans, add 40 percent to the resources you anticipate. Also, consider ways to make your plans more flexible and secure than you intuitively feel is needed.

Step 8: Communicate and Take the Next Steps

Communicate the plan to your stakeholders, and give them a heads up about the additional resources needed. Then, take the next steps to address the unanticipated problems and take advantage of the opportunities you identified by improving your plans, as well as allocating and reserving resources.

Finally, take note that there will be cases when you’ll need to go back and forth these steps to make improvements, (a fix here, an improvement there) so be comfortable with revisiting your strategy and reaching out to your list of experts.

Conclusion

A great way to deal with feelings of uncertainty during this pandemic is to anticipate obstacles with a good plan – and a sure road to that is practicing strategic thinking.

In the coming months and years, you’ll need to continue navigating uncharted territory so that you can lead your team to safe waters. Regularly doing these 8 steps to strategic thinking will ensure that you can prepare for and adapt  to the coming changes with increasing clarity, perspective, and efficiency.[2]

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Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

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