All people have potential, but different kinds of potential, based on their unique neurological design. Knowing your neurological design and understanding the drivers that optimize your brain performance, is the key to potential development and performance optimization. Effective and successful people manage their neuro-design and the drivers that optimize it, so they can get what they want and become who they can be.
Because of our genetic coding, there will naturally always be one hemisphere, brain region or sensory organ that will lead and be preferred because of neurological dominance. This will be the natural default mode we choose to function in, especially during stress or fatigue. All people can and should however, optimize the other hemisphere, brain regions and senses to process information and perform equally as well. Ultimately, this is what being neuro agile is all about.
Unfortunately, our world mostly has a dualistic approach to understanding how the brain works, suggesting one thing or the other. You are either, left hemisphere or right hemisphere oriented, expressive or receptive, rational or emotional. This produces a limiting view of who we are. Dualism does not accommodate the concept that you are a whole brained person who can do whatever is expected of you. The better perspective should be one of inclusiveness – you are left hemisphere and right hemisphere, expressive and receptive, rational and emotional. One region may lead because it is dominant, but the other region can function as effectively as the dominant region. When all brain regions are firing on all cylinders simultaneously, there is a multiplication effect that optimize your brain’s performance to enable you to function at optimum level.
Your brain has the potential to help you do whatever life requires of you. It has unlimited potential in terms of what you can learn, think and create. Sometimes a person may not appear to act like someone with unlimited potential, because there may be an absence, or lack of drivers that optimize their performance. To optimize your brain performance and enable all hemispheres, lobes and brain regions to function simultaneously as one functional whole brained system, you need to provide it with the right fuel, physical and mental stimulation and create the right conditions to thrive. There are eight drivers like brain agility, sleep, stress, diet, mindset, movement, cognitive skills and the physical environment that can negatively, or positively, influence your brain’s performance. One can’t improve what one can’t measure. In order to get the most out of your whole brain, it is essential that you know how these drivers influence your neurological design and learn appropriate skills to optimize these drivers.
Infographic about drivers that optimize your brain performance
Brain Agility (Brain Fitness)
Brain agility, commonly referred to as brain fitness, is about utilizing all brain regions simultaneously as one functional 3-dimensional system. You are not born brain fit. It is something that you need to develop and maintain through regular physical activities and mental stimulation. Lack of brain agility will result in alternating between hemispheres rather than processing information simultaneously, causing you to think, learn and process information longer, slower and harder. Optimizing your brain agility will result in ease with learning, thinking faster and smarter and processing information at optimal level.
Your brain fitness skill set consists of a combination of physical cross-lateral exercises and mental activities that help produce neurotrophins, neurotransmitters, activate mental integrative states and promote cerebrospinal circulation on a daily basis.
Infographic about brain fitness
Stress Coping Skills
During stress, the brain releases cortical inhibitors that decrease or inhibit the electro-chemical function of the non-dominant hemisphere in the medium to long term. This is called neurological stress. A neurological stressor is anything that slows down, inhibits or even prevents the transmission of electrical impulses between and through neurons. It results in the non-dominant hemisphere becoming less receptive and effective for electrical transmission (causing a “switching off” effect in layman’s terms), leaving the dominant brain hemisphere to carry on with its primary processing functions, causing the left hemisphere dominant person being more logical (analytical) oriented and the right hemisphere dominant person to be more big-picture (creative) oriented.
Depending on the level and duration of stress, you may release even more cortical inhibitors that may result in losing control over more brain regions, regressing from the neocortex (reasoning centers) into the limbic system and brain stem areas (emotional and survival). The longer and more intense the stress you experience, the more you lose control. Continued stress thus, limits your performance, memory, concentration, mental alertness, learning effectiveness, information processing abilities and brain health.
It is only when you cope well with stress, and you feel positive, safe and relaxed that you access all brain regions naturally. Information is then processed in the brain’s reflective, cognitive prefrontal cortex and new learning is incorporated into networks of long-term, conceptual memory. This state of relaxed alertness is where you concentrate better and are mentally alert and sharp.
Pro-active stress management skills are a conglomeration of many skills like maintaining work-life-sleep balance, developing and maintaining optimistic mindsets in stressful times, having strong social bonds with others, exercising and moving sufficiently, self-debriefing stress coping skills, healthy diet, practicing spirituality and so on. Pro-actively coping with stress, is not about doing one or some of these skills, but actually doing as many of them as possible most of the time. Contrary to popular belief, these skills are not common sense and has to be taught. If it was common sense and everybody was doing it, stress wouldn’t be the greatest killer in society and the no 1 cause of most illnesses. Developing these skills are vital, as stress is your brain’s greatest enemy.
Sleep is essential for mental alertness, energy, brain health and optimum brain performance. When you sleep long enough and deep enough, you produce neurotransmitters that are vital for managing fatigue and maintaining health and wellness. Sleep helps your body to restore depleted resources and to repair damaged cells. It makes the mind more receptive for thinking, learning, concentration and memory. Dreaming helps to clear away ‘brain clutter.’
Lack of sufficient sleep causes fatigue. You will be at risk at work, more prone to accidents and errors and also may suffer serious health problems. Although each person needs a different amount of sleep, most individuals need somewhere between 7 – 9 hours sleep per night. It is not just the amount of sleep you get, but also the quality that determines how rested you will be.
Developing sound sleeping strategies to ensure you maintain quality sleeping habits in a demanding world has become an art that most people have not mastered well enough. In the medium to long term it will impact their health, life span, performance and happiness. Maintaining the discipline of good sleeping habits is not optional, but mandatory if mental alertness and safety is a requirement in your world.
Movement and Exercise
If you do not exercise sufficiently, and constantly move, your brain health and performance will be compromised. Movement activates your brain’s thinking centers and “switches on” both brain hemispheres. It stimulates thinking and learning. Circulation of oxygenated blood to your brain, when you move, energizes your brain. Exercise helps to produce neurotransmitters that promote good feelings and health. Stretching promotes increased focus and concentration.
Most people assume that if they exercise every day, it is enough, but research indicates that you should also be moving throughout the day in order for your brain to really reap the benefits of movement.
Including movement and exercise into your busy life style, as much as you possibly can, is a prerequisite for a sharp and agile brain. Exercise. Walk where you can. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Stand during a meeting rather than sitting. Stand when doing computer work.
Attitude / Mindset
Your attitude is the way you habitually think. You are what you think. Changing your performance starts with changing the way you habitually think. You cannot be more than the sum total of your thinking. A positive attitude is essential for good brain health and optimum performance. Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.” Your mind controls your body and whole life. Actions follows thoughts. If you want to change your life, performance, success and happiness, it starts with changing your thinking. A positive mind produces positive performance. A negative mind produces negative performance. A negative mind can never produce positive performance. If you want to be successful, think and do what successful people do. If you want to be happy, think like a happy person and do what happy people do.
It is not only your thought patterns (neural pathways) that impact your success and performance, but also the bio-chemical response that positive or negative thoughts evoke. Chemicals produced by positive thoughts and feelings complement learning and health. Unfortunately, chemicals produced by constant negative thoughts, feelings, stress and fatigue inhibit the effectiveness of electrical transmissions in your brain, drain your energy and may even weaken our immune system in the medium to long term. An optimistic, growth mindset, where a person is governed by a constructive mind, is vital for success, brain health and optimum performance.
Contrary to popular belief, you are not born being an optimist or a pessimist. Optimism is a habitual, positive mindset of someone who always have hope for the future, regardless of the negative realities they may face. A positive mind is a mental discipline you develop and maintain. Your mindset is an attitude you develop and something you are responsible for. You should control it. Your mindset should never control you. Maintaining a positive attitude is of primary importance as it is the underlying mindset for most desired skills like creativity, problem solving and emotional intelligence. You can eat healthy, do your brain agility and movement exercises, but if you have a negative mind, it will still limit your brain performance profoundly.
The food you eat have a direct impact on your information processing ability, emotions, health, concentration and how your brain performs. The energy your brain produces comes from a combination of the food you eat, the water you drink and the oxygen you inhale.
You are what you eat. Eating natural and healthy brain foods compliment working faster and smarter. Most of nature’s produce, used in moderation and variation, will be conducive for increased mental performance. Unfortunately, most of man’s “quick fixes” and products like processed and fast foods are not always conducive to physical and mental performance and health in the medium to long term. Maintaining a healthy, brain friendly diet for people who are on the go, may be their greatest challenge, but something that significantly influence their energy, life span, well-being, performance and happiness.
Your senses connect your brain to the environment in which you learn and work. The senses are the doors to your brain. You absorb information by constantly taking in sensory data as visual (see), auditory (hear), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), and gustatory (taste) messages to the brain. What you see, hear, smell, taste and touch will either have a positive or negative biochemical impact on your brain. Chemicals that facilitate and transmit electrical impulses between brain cells are called neurotransmitters. These chemicals are highly conducive to learning and health and are produced when you work in a humanized environment which resembles natural colors, sounds, textures and smells.
Most man made physical environments in which you work and learn is not always conducive to optimum brain performance or your health. If the physical environment in which you work is dehumanized, it will negatively impact your brain’s performance because it may cause you to produce chemicals, called cortical inhibitors, that may hinder or limit electrical transmission between neurons (brain cells) and are therefore not conducive to your brain health and performance in the medium to long term.
Brain ergonomics is about how the physical environment in which you learn, think and work, is brain friendly (humanized) or not. For optimized performance, the physical environments in which you live and work should be as humanized and natural as possible in order for it to be conducive for learning and thinking.
Except for regulating bodily functions, learning and thinking are the primary functions of your brain. You are born with unique learning and thinking potential, but need to develop appropriate cognitive skills that are aligned with your unique neuro-design in order to be good at creativity, analytical thinking and complex problem solving.
In order to optimize your brain performance, you also need to learn mental skills required to survive and thrive. Skills like advanced visual processing skills to read faster and process volumes of information effectively, how to reduce volumes of information (data) to meaningful content, complex problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, creativity, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making and cognitive flexibility will be a necessity to thrive today and in the future.
You can’t improve what you can’t measure. For you to have a fast, focused and flexible mind, it is mandatory that you need accurate understanding of the factors that make up your neurological design and learn appropriate skills to optimize the drivers that impact your brain performance. The Neuro Agility Profile™ (NAP) is the most comprehensive, multi-dimensional assessment you can use to measure and optimize your neuro-design and the drivers that impact your brain health and performance.
written by: Dr. André Vermeulen