Two Easy Ways To Rewire Your Brain To Be More Productive

Until technology catches up with a solution to fix our productivity problems, you can use brain science to get more done.

Two Easy Ways To Rewire Your Brain To Be More Productive
[Photo: Charles Hewitt/Picture Post/Getty Images]

“Our brains and bodies, which functioned perfectly for us up until the 20th century, can no longer keep up,” says Harvard scientist David Bach, founder of the Platypus Institute, a research organization that studies the science of peak performance. “Industries used to take decades to evolve; today, they transform overnight. Staying ahead in a world morphing so quickly is nearly impossible.”

It’s no wonder brain rewiring is becoming a growing trend, with neuroplasticity conferences attracting more attendees every month, says Bach. “It’s not like science fiction anymore; we’re getting to the point where there is more and more usable and practical information that is making more of an impact in the world,” he says. “Neuroscience can triple productivity. Who can afford not to use it?”

Athletes and military personnel have been studying and using techniques that can enhance human performance for years. “In the Olympics in Rio, 80% of the athletes were doing this kind of stuff to prepare,” says Bach. “We’re also seeing an increasing amount of investment and hedge fund brokers doing the same thing because the techniques can make traders better.”

But there is no silver bullet. For example, SAFILOX has manufactured “smart” sunglasses that include a headband that measures brainwave activity that can provide the user with feedback and guidance for focus.

“The headband uses a little neuroscience, but none of the products available for corporate america right now are at the level of the iPhone,” says Bach. “But it’s an inevitability.”

Until then, there are little things you can do to create a large impact on your productivity, and they’re super easy, says Bach. He offers these two steps to get you started right now:

Learn How To Redirect Stress

The biggest efficiency killer is stress, says Bach. “When people get stressed out it redirects the blood in their brain and turns off their prefrontal cortex,” he says. “Our amygdala and adrenal glands start firing, and we go into fight or flight mode where our intelligence level drops to that of a monkey. You don’t need deep thought when a mountain lion is attacking you.”

In the executive arena stress reactions compromise judgment, but they’re also unconscious. “Most of us know stress hurt you physically, such as in our immune systems, but many of us don’t realize it impairs cognitive function,” says Bach.

You can eliminate the harmful effects of stress on your brain by rewiring it to reduce chronic stress. “It has a surprisingly big impact on cognitive function without a lot of work,” says Bach. “You can’t reduce stress in the moment, but you can rewire your stress reaction so when you face your stimulus you relax instead of stressing.”

He suggests a protocol called MIR, which stands for measure, interrupt, and replace:

  • Measure: First, become aware of and measure chronic stressful situations.
  • Interrupt: Next, redirect or interrupt the brain’s automatic response, which is to go into stress mode under certain triggers.
  • Replace the reaction with another response, such as laughter or calm.

Imagine the situation and follow it with your positive response. You will need to repeat the process at least 200 times to interrupt the pattern and direct it to a new pathway. Replacing the reaction with something positive rewards the brain and releases dopamine.

“I worked with an executive who was working with her ex-husband and he would yell at her a lot,” says Bach. “For three minutes each day she’d imagine her husband coming in and she would laugh. Thirty days later she had conditioned herself to have an automatic reaction to him, and she eliminated the stress.”

Change Your Lighting

Lighting has a big impact on brain function, and something as simple as having the wrong bulbs could be hurting your cognitive function, says Bach.

“Photo receptors in the brain for light can change your mental state,” he says. “You want lots of blue light in morning in the office, because it gives you energy.”

Bach suggests installing bright blue lights in your bathroom so you can have the light for your morning routine. “This will send a powerful signal to your body’s master clock–telling it to wake up,” he says. “If possible, it’s also beneficial to expose yourself to natural light throughout the day. Research has found that call center employees process calls at a faster rate when near a window. In another study, heart attack patients were found to recover faster when exposed to plentiful natural light.”

If you have fluorescent lighting in your office or home, get rid of it, says Bach. “Fluorescents flicker at about 150 flicks a second, and it’s fast enough for the brain to detect,” he says. “It consumes our brain resources, and cognitive function drops. No one should ever work in fluorescent light. Something as simple as changing the lighting can double your productivity.”

But Don’t Underestimate Simple Awareness

A core insight around productivity is understanding that we go in and out of states of being, and certain states are more productive, says Bach. “Cultivate self awareness about how your productivity waxes and wanes during the day, and become aware of your patterns,” he says. “These are opportunities. When you figure out how to recognize your positive states, you will enhance your productivity.”

About the author

Stephanie Vozza writes about business, productivity, and really cool people for magazines, websites, and companies. She is the author of The Five-Minute Mom's Club: 105 Tips to Make a Mom's Life Easier and the founder of TheOrganizedParent.com, an ecommerce platform she later sold to FranklinCovey Products.

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