Just like any other great asset, our brain needs care if we want it to work for us.
This means focusing on elements such as sleep (at least 7 hours per day), consuming brain-friendly foods (nuts, oily fish, berries, leafy vegetables, to name a few), doing regular exercise(no need for excruciating workouts), and having mindfulness practices like meditation or deep conscious breathing.
Moreover, these are all proven practices to reduce our levels of stress, which is key for the well functioning of our brain. Studies show chronic stress can cause up to a 14% decrease in the area of your brain responsible for memory encoding and storage.
Now that we are clear on these elements, let’s understand how to get our brain to say less “no” and more “yes” to the things we want to do.
The neuroscience of YES
On a high level, our brain is hardwired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. If you think about it, every decision we take is driven by a desire for pleasurable reward, whether it’s meditating to feel good or buying a car to look good.
Knowing what individually drives us to seek pleasure is key if we want to manage our decisions and actions more effectively. While pleasure is undoubtedly a great feeling, when we become too pleasure dependent, we can fall into the instant gratification trap.
This only hinders our overall levels of productivity and well-being. That’s why delaying gratification and trying to avoid all those distracting notifications calling for our attention are some of the best ways to build mental resilience.
As I said initially, our brain is not able to distinguish between what it believes and what it does. For this reason, practicing positive self-talk and visualisation techniques is great to steer into a more proactive direction. Specifically, when practicing visualisation, try to focus on the following steps: relax, imagine the environment, view it as a third person, view it as a first-person, and come back to reality.
Its results are nothing short of impressive. An Australian researcher divided a basketball team into two groups. The first group focused on physically practicing their free throws for 20 days, while the other group simply visualised practicing free throws for the same amount of time. The result? The first group boosted their success rate by 24%, the second group by an astonishing 23%!
The Neuroscience of NO
Whether we like to accept it or not, we are often our biggest obstacle between our current and desired self. Our fears and limiting beliefs are a big part of who we are as individuals but when they manifest too strongly in us, they hijack our logical and calm thinking.
To effectively change our belief system, it’s not enough to replace it with a strong “yes” response: we need to focus our efforts on deconstructing it and rewiring it through a technique called cognitive restructuring.
Here is how the process goes:
- Identify the activating event: define the nature of the event creating a limiting belief. For example, I just got rejected by a client.
- Consequence: define the emotions generated as a result of this rejection. For example, anxiety, unhappiness, and frustration.
- Isolating beliefs: link the activating event with the emotions generated to understand the root cause of this belief. For example, I am bad at sales.
- Rewiring belief: look for evidence disproving this belief to build a more positive and balanced perspective. For example, even though I might have just been rejected by a client, last month I had closed 3 great deals.
When you build up from this new perspective, you can change your inner narrative and self-belief as a result.
Personal development is not a short-term fix but with the right knowledge and spirit, we can achieve things we thought were not possible. After all, our brain does not discern what’s real from what’s not!