The facts are frightening. The brain of the average worker must process 30 times more information than 20 years ago; people can only properly concentrate for 20 mins at a time; 90 per cent of what is learned is lost in a week if not reinforced; 80-90 per cent of serious injuries and accidents have been attributed to human error. On top of that, 60-70 per cent of people’s current jobs are likely to become redundant within the next ten years.
Having spent 20 years working in leadership development, at last I feel I’m onto something significant. It’s common-sense and simple, yet helps people work better and faster – without sacrificing their health. I wish I’d discovered it years ago.
The simple idea is rooted in neuroscience, helping your workforce improve their brain fitness and what’s being determined as their neuro-agility (the readiness of all our brain’s regions to function as one integrated whole brain system). When people are neuro-agile, they have the flexibility to learn new skills, attitudes and behaviours fast and easily, and unlearn old behaviour patterns quickly. Developing brain fitness in your people helps everyone to out-think, out-learn, out-create and out-perform.
Neuroscience proves every person’s brain has unlimited learning potential. Brain fitness allows people to measure and track and unleash more of that potential. From a people development perspective, performance improvement starts with understanding a person’s neurological design. Knowing the factors which impact this design is critical to ensuring the brain remains “in-flow” and agile.
Identified by neuroscience expert Dr André Vermeulen, these include: whether a person is left or right brain dominant, has an expressive or receptive preference, is rational or emotional, understanding their brain and sensory dominance pattern and whether they are visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners.
The naturally strengthened neural networks between these neurophysiological aspects, influence people’s predisposition towards which brain regions, senses and intelligences will dominate (lead) during learning, thinking and cognitive processes. Understanding this helps them perform better.
Vermeulen also identified six main drivers that boost neuro-agility and brainpower. These are brain fitness, stress coping skills, sleep, movement, exercise, optimistic mindset and nutrition. These drivers affect brain health, working with people’s own neurological design to improve memory, focus, cognition and energy, thereby impacting a person’s ability to perform at work.
The norm for brain fitness is 48 per cent and ideally you would want your workforce to be nearer 80 per cent brain fit. Boosting people’s brain fitness is helping them to use both the left and right brain hemispheres simultaneously.
Whole brain utilisation is improved by doing regular physical activities such as swimming, dancing, football, aerobics, tennis and exercise involving cross-lateral movements. This is because when we move or exercise, neurotransmitters are secreted which increases concentration levels and we experience an increase in dendritic growth, so our brain cells have greater connectivity and receive more information from other neurons.
Try stretching at work, having a meeting standing up or stimulate both sides of the brain with mental activities. Stress is the brain’s greatest enemy, so stress coping mechanisms such as breathing and mindfulness are key. In times of stress, our less dominant brain hemisphere automatically switches off, dampening our performance immediately.
Getting adequate sleep is also important. Ideally five hours of deep sleep helps our brains to thrive. Our brainwaves slow to alpha frequency as we rest, theta frequency is when we feel drowsy then Delta waves when we sleep or are dreaming, which are critical for brain health.
Food and nutrition attributes greatly to our overall brain health. Like any other complex machinery, our brains need energy – it uses up 20 per cent of our total energy and needs the right type of energy from the nutrients in our food to produce essential brain chemicals – or neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters in turn require a protein-rich diet to thrive. Eight glasses of water a day, fruit and vegetables, seeds, nuts, natural oils, fish, chicken grains – are all valuable.
Finally, positive attitude is fundamental to brain health. When people think positive thoughts they secrete neuro-transmitters which facilitate thinking, learning and creativity. When people think negative thoughts they secrete inhibitor chemicals which block or limit the flow of electro-chemical impulses and reduce their brain performance.
When you give people positive feedback, provide positive reinforcement and help them visualise positive outcomes, more connections between their brain cells are physically formed, so they create more physical neural pathways to success. Helping people to optimise thir ability through neuroscience will naturally drive better performance in your business.
Carole Gaskell is founder of Full Potential Group, one of the UK’s top leadership and talent development firms
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