3 things you can do right now to maximise your brain's output

Mind Games

Good news: There are plenty awesome ways to exercise your mind without spending a penny.

Here are a few of our favourite tricks.

Enhance your memory by absorbing information directly before or after a cardiovascular workout. Watch the clock though. If you wait longer than one hour, the benefits wane.

Consume new information by connecting ideas to things you already know. Think Sherlock’s mind palace. By storing incoming data in “rooms” with similar info, your brain will locate details faster than you can say “where’s my trench coat and awkward hat, Watson?”

Be your own cognitive personal trainer. Download a memory-boosting app and set up a recurring fifteen minute appointment to train your brain. We like Lumosity and Cognifit.

Music: Killing Creativity Softly

It’s intuitive to think music boosts creativity. To some extent, it’s true.

But when it comes to verbal creativity, recent research out of Lancaster University shows that music—regardless of whether it’s classical, or foreign, or self-indulgent feel-good pop—messes with ideation and problem solving. Silence is golden.

How did they figure that out?

Researchers presented people with verbal insight problems believed to tap into creativity. For example, “Find a word associated to the following: dial, dress, and flower.” (Can you figure it out? The answer is below.)

Participants completed their problems in different auditory environments. The ones who worked in silence (or with minimal noise, like in a library) scored higher than their peers.

Music “significantly impaired” the rest of the pack, even the folks who typically work with in noisy environments. Sound variations interfere with your brain’s ability to excel.

So what?

It means you can increase productivity by considering when to throw on your headphones at work.

If music keeps you motivated, great. Just reserve it for time spent doing routine or process-driven tasks. Otherwise, keep your headphones on but kill the volume. You’ll boost creativity and solve problems faster.

PS. The answer is “sun”

Anxiety, Just Reframe It

Fun fact for anyone who suffers from performance anxiety: That familiar crippling feeling can actually become your edge.

According to a study at Harvard Business School, all it takes is a little strategic paradigm shift.

You had me at Harvard.
Thought so.

Assistant Professor Alison Woods Brooks examined the relationship between anxiety, affirmations, and performance.  

She manufactured three stressful situations: speaking in public, solving math equations, and performing karaoke.

She asked half the group to repeat “I am calm” before performing. The others talked themselves off the ledge with “I am excited.”

The results were dramatic. The excited bunch shone brighter. Some folks even said their anxiety lifted.

What’s the deal?
It boils down to something called interoception. Think bodily self-awareness.

Say you’re anxious. Your hands are shaking. Your brain knows it.

If you deny your butterflies and essentially lie to your yourself saying, “I am calm,” your brain knows better. Anxiety wins.

But by stating “I am excited,” you can fool your brain. Nervous energy and excitement are siblings and your brain can’t easily tell them apart. Enthusiasm takes over and you perform with confidence.

It’s true. Land a promotion, close a deal, secure more capital.

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Threadgold, E, Marsh, JE, McLatchie, N, Ball, LJ. Background music stints creativity: Evidence from compound remote associate tasks. Appl Cognit Psychol. 2019; 1– 16. 

Brooks, A.W. "Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143, no. 3 (June 2014): 1144–1158.