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How to Use More of Your Brain to Become More Productive and Happy

How to Use More of Your Brain to Become More Productive and Happy

To answer the question how to use more of your brain, I want to share my story about overloading my brain….

I’m not a morning person. I always hoped that when I grew up, I’d become that person who was magically “on” (happy and productive) the second my eyes opened. You know, like the old guy in Jerry McGuire who wakes up, claps his hands and says “Today is going to be a great day!”

Adults are supposed to be morning people, right? We’re supposed to be able to use our brains and be productive members of society right out of the gate, waking with smiles on our faces with hearts full of gratitude.

That’s the pressure I’ve always put on myself anyway–that I should feel excited and grateful in the morning. But if I’m being honest, I’ve never felt that way. And generally, my mornings kind of suck…

I wake up everyday with a three year old pulling on my arm (or if I’m not so lucky she’s pulling up the lid of my eye) telling me it’s time to get out of bed because I’m officially on duty as her personal chef, stylist, and chauffeur. (I mean, I’m basically her glorified celebrity handler). Most days, it’s a battle of wills, struggling to get her to put on pants and get in the car and usually I resort to sugar-laced bribes just to keep my sanity.

Suffice to say, by the time I get home from taking her to school, I feel spent and quite honestly, stupid. As a mom of a preschooler, I feel like my brain is operating in “react” mode so much of the morning that I forget it’s possible for me to be an intentional, productive person in the AM hours.

I thought working from home would be easier in this way, but it turns out it’s actually a lot easier to not be productive without the positive peer pressure of other hyper-focused adults visibly working hard at their computers around me.

So what winds up happening is I get home and find it hard not to get on my computer and let my inbox send me on whatever trip my brain decides it wants to go on in that moment.

No plan, no focus, I’m just…doing stuff…I think? At least I’m fighting the urge to go back to bed, I tell myself. I’m being a grown up.

Most mornings I’ve felt like a failure as an adult because of this chronic morning brain fog. So recently I’ve been trying to figure out why I still feel like a 17-year old recovering from mono who can’t get out of bed for first period.

I’m not depressed. My life is good. I love my work.

So why is it so hard for me to follow through on doing things I want to do at a reasonable, productive “adult” hour? I couldn’t help but wonder…what is wrong with me?

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1. Focus on WHEN: The Forgotten Four-Letter Word

It turns out, I may have been asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking WHAT is wrong with me and WHY can’t I, the question I forgot to ask, and the question we all need to be asking is WHEN.

It all became a little more clear when my husband brought home a book called WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink.

According to chronobiology experts, it’s very possible that a lot of our brain power, productivity and even happiness doesn’t necessary stem from what we are doing, but WHEN we are doing it.

Imagine you’re on a relaxing vacation for a week. No meetings. No kids or obligations. It’s just you, a cozy bed, and your whims. What time do you go to bed, knowing you can sleep in as late as you want and nap as much as you want the following day? Got it? Great.

Next, what time would you wake up, by choice?

Now take the time you’d ideally go to bed and the time you’d ideally wake up and find the time exactly halfway between the two. That time will tell you if you’re an “early bird” (or Lark), a Night Owl, OR, neither. Turns out 65% of us are what chronobiologists have come to call “Third Birds”—somewhere in the middle.

Once you determine your “type,” you can start planning your day’s activities based on the right time for your brain—or WHEN you’re best cognitively equipped for that type of task, based on science.

According to Pink and the research, knowing WHEN you are going to perform your best on certain tasks can be an absolute game-changer. For example, say you have an important exam that’s full of analytical questions: Larks and Third Birds are going to perform better on those sorts of tasks in the morning, but Owls are going to perform far better on analytical tasks in the late afternoon or evening.

Knowing when you’re in the ideal state to be your most productive self can make the tasks you do easier and relieve unnecessary stress.

Bottom-line is when it comes to using more of your brain and being happier overall, it may be more of a question of knowing your nature, asking WHEN, and leaning into your natural rhythm rather than constantly fighting it.

2. Manage the Impact of Technology on Your Brain

I’d be remiss, in today’s digital age, if I didn’t bring up the impact technology is having on our brains, productivity, and our general sense of well-being. I mean, the one thing I didn’t mention in my description of my morning is that I’m constantly fighting the urge to check my email or do work while I’m feeding, dressing and wrangling my three year old off to school.

It feels like a compulsive thing, like I can’t help myself from looking at my phone even though I know there’s nothing that can’t wait. If I have a “free” second, I feel the need to do SOMETHING (more accurately, HOLD something).

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It would be easy to posit that technology is a dirty, addictive brain-cell killer and I’m sure I’d find plenty of evidence to support that assertion, but the undeniable truth is that technology has enabled us to get so much more done in such a shorter period of time.

We no longer have to drive 30 minutes each way to a brick-and-mortar retailer to buy miscellaneous items, we can order them it in less than a minute with one tap. So when it comes to productivity, I feel like all of the good technology has done is not trumped by the bad.

That being said, there’s a flip side to the world literally being at our fingertips–especially when it comes to our cognitive abilities. The question on my mind is:

Now that our brains are able to get more information, or input, instantaneously because of how readily available it is, are we actually able to process all of this information without overload?

According to the experts, there’s a false belief among consumers that technology is helping us be better multitaskers, but it’s just not true. The fact is we’re not capable of successfully giving our focus to more than one thing at a time.[1]

Multitasking, at least for humans, is a myth.

So what is actually happening is this:

We think we can be more productive by using our phones to multitask but this leads us to spend more and more time on our phones where we usually get distracted by the overwhelming human need for connection.

One of the expert panelists, Larry Rosen, a research psychologist, explained how technology can actually make us feel chronically anxious because:

“we are feeling a lot of pressure that we have to connect, that we feel a responsibility to connect, and that’s the anxiety-provoking part.”

It’s really this innate desire for connection, for feeling a part of the “tribe” if you will, that leads us to what sometimes looks and feels like technology addiction. But according to Rosen “addiction should give us some sort of a good feeling, a pleasurable feeling.”

But since most of us don’t feel a “high” from being glued to our screens, he believes technology is more like an obsession or compulsion, since we feel a constant need to “check in.”

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The experts also agree that all of this “multitasking” and information overload has had consequences on how we learn and retain information because it’s just simply not possible for our brains to focus on so many different things at once.

So we have this desire to be productive, and an even deeper desire for connection, but a lot of the time our devices distract us from doing either very well.

3. Give Your Brain a Rest

I don’t know about you but my brain hurts from all of that tech talk. Luckily, I have the perfect remedy and if you love coffee and sleep as much as I do, you’re about to have a deep desire to hug me through your computer screen (but thank Dan Pink, I’m just passing this gem on).

If you’re feeling like your brain is fried and your productivity is waning, I’d like to introduce you to your new best friend: The Nappuccino:[2]

    According to the latest research, naps are incredibly beneficial for our brains and overall productivity, but only if done “right.”

    The Nappuccino is the recipe for the perfect nap: Since caffeine takes about 25 minutes to kick in, if you drink a cup of your favorite java, then lay down it takes approximately 5 minutes to fall asleep–giving you the optimal 20 minute snooze sesh (long enough to feel refreshed, but not too long to make you drowsy).

    When to do this, you may be wondering? The Mayo Clinic suggests that the best time for a nap is between 2pm-3pm, when we all typically hit our mid-day slump.

    The best part? You wake up with your caffeine kick in full effect, ready to get back to work.

    You’re welcome!

    If you’re not remotely jazzed about the fact that I just gave you permission to drink coffee and take a nap in the afternoon, you may be one of those people who hate naps.

    Maybe napping makes you feel like a lazy, good for nothing bum and you feel like it’s weak? You may even pride yourself in never taking a lunch break and eating at your desk. If this sounds familiar, you may need to hear this more than anyone:

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    According to Pink and all of the studies, taking lunch (more specifically a social lunch where we connect with someone face-to-face) as well as an afternoon nap, helps us work better, faster and more efficiently. It also helps prevent us from making mistakes.

    As Pink puts it “Breaks are not a sign of sloth, but a sign of strength.”

    And if you still need more proof, a student at Stanford noted in her report on trying the Nappuccino:[3]

    “This process has extended my capacity from measly journal entries to full-on drafts of essays. Thus, I have been proven utterly wrong in my castigation of naps as emblems of counterproductivity.”

    In other words, don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

    The Big Takeaways

    If you’re like most hyper-productive adults and you just scrolled to the bottom to get the gist of this article, I get it, no judgement. As I’ve stated above, our brains can only take in so much. So here’s the bottom line:

    If you want to be more happy, productive, and use your brain more efficiently:

    1. Lean into your unique internal clock and work your WHEN. If you’re a morning person, do the hardest stuff in the AM. If you’re a night person, give yourself permission to not think so hard first thing (and be nice to yourself, okay?)
    2. Focus on one task at a time (our brains can’t multitask, even if our phones can)
    3. Get your fix for connection by talking to other humans in real life (and take a lunch break)
    4. Give your brain a break by unplugging from the screen and treating yourself to an afternoon Nappuccino

    The truth is we don’t need to use more of our brains, we simply need to stop distracting our brains and start understanding them. Most importantly, we need to give our brains a rest so our incredible, life-sustaining, built-in supercomputers can function at their highest potential.

    These days, I’m not so hard on my more “Owly” nature. Somehow cutting myself and my brain some slack and giving it permission to not be “on” in the morning…online that is…has made “adulting” in the AM feel much brighter.

    It may take an hour or two, but eventually, after a couple of cups of coffee, I’m able to clap my hands and say “today is going to be a great day.” And mean it.

    More Resources About Boosting Brain Power

    Featured photo credit: Lucrezia Carnelos via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Computer History Museum: Our Mind’s on Tech: How Technology Affects the Human Brain.
    [2] Daniel Pink: When: Napaccino
    [3] The Standard Daily: The nappuccino

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    Kristina Voegele

    Author and Success Coach | Founder of Grit & Grace Living | Creator of the Writerpreneur Workshop

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    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

    2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

    Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

    Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

    Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

    Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

    Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

    By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

    The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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    1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

    Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

    Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

    Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

    When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

    The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

    Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

    To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

    Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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    We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

    It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

    After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

    Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

    Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

    To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

    Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

    Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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    When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

    Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

    We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

    When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

    Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

    2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

    If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

    The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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    To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

    With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

    So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

    • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
    • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
    • Say no to all else.
    • Say no again.
    • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
    • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
    • Meditate.
    • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
    • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
    • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
    • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
    • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
    • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

    Final Thoughts

    These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

    Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

    More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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