In a recent assignment, I was asked to answer this question; “How does your intention, motivation, or purpose energize your brain’s ability to focus, learn, and create.” The question came after learning about how the mind organizes information (or doesn’t so much organize) so that we can go about our lives doing the things we want to and meeting our expectations for completion, timing, accuracy, outcome, etc.
In addition, we were introduced to exciting new research on mental and emotional states. Using brain scans, researchers are locating the parts of the brain responsible for our many emotional and mental characteristics. We are on the cutting edge of understanding more deeply what brain areas are active during states such as self evaluation, collaborating with others, building rapport, and open awareness. The potential for utilizing this information is mind bending!
Before telling you how I answered the question above, I’ll share with you some practical tools you can use during those moments when your anxiety spikes because you feel as though you’re being pulled in too many directions. Here’s a synopsis:
Tame your out of control emotions. When you're reacting emotionally, whether it be anxiety, sadness or anger, the emotional centers of the brain (amygdala) are in overdrive and this can interfere with more complex organization (like attention and focus). Conversely, as the emotional amygdala has the potential to undermine the rational prefrontal cortex (PFC), the rational PFC has the ability to distract and calm the emotional amygdala. This is done through naming the emotion(s) that are encroaching on your sanity and then reappraising the situation with the PFC. The task of stepping back and cognitively reinterpreting the situation activates the prefrontal cortex which can then assuage the amygdala. We have these two parts of the brain for a reason, it’s always best to meet in the middle, to not be lead by either one independently.
Sustain attention. The prefrontal cortex is the control node for attention, which probably isn’t surprising given its ability to tame our emotional outbursts. It helps us sustain attention over a long period of time, plan what to do with the information it’s receiving, and block out irrelevant stimuli. How can you leverage the abilities of the prefrontal cortex to be more organized? Being in the present moment is a paramount, also known as mindfulness. If you’re reading this blog, are you processing the words or is your mind wondering? While writing this blog, how successful and timely would I be if I were thinking about the run I want to go on when I finish?
STOP. This acronym stand for; Step back, Think, Organize your thoughts, then Proceed. It means applying inhibitory control or restraining and regulating your attention. Our ability to resist the competing demands of our lives, to regulate our responses, and to delay gratification are yet more building blocks of success and organization.
When we succumb to our impulses, we’re allowing our emotions to respond unchecked and drive our behavior without stopping to think about our options and make a thoughtful choice. Those with a lower ability level to STOP will succumb more often to impulses, making unhealthy choices like eating too many cookies, getting sidetracked by phone calls and texts, and lashing out angrily. The key here, again, is to use your thinking brain and your emotional brain together.
Leverage your working memory. Your attentional and memory brain networks are working closely together to produce the remarkable and valuable skill of working memory. Working memory is what allows you to access information that is no longer right in front of you so that you can create and work with it. Improving your working memory requires a number of considerations, things such as:
Shifting gears. This is the ability to be flexible in your thoughts and behaviors. In order to be organized, you must be able to effectively and efficiently shift your focus from one object, action, or situation, to another. This is not “multitasking,” which is one of the biggest culprits of late, incomplete, and low quality projects. This is STOPPING and using working memory to shift attention intentionally when needed. While this skill comes easier to some than others, two tips to practice when necessity calls for you to change direction are:
While writing this blog I’ve stayed aware of when my mind wondered (and I brought it back to the task at hand) and when I needed to get up, move around, and eat something (which did help me come back and organize my thoughts). I’m fascinated by the brain potential in taking information I’ve learned through reading (Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life; Hammerness & Moore) and classes and applying it in daily life. I’m also fascinated by the potential to activate certain parts of the brain, much like we do in strength training, to access and leverage things like mindfulness or patience when we’re overstimulated by stress.
So back to the original question above that I’m to answer: My purpose is to have a positive impact on those around me. My motivation and intention is seeing confidence and pride in others. I focus because I love the content (current curriculum) and I see potential in everyone. And I learn and create because I focus.
How does your intention, motivation, or purpose energize your brain’s ability to focus, learn, and create?
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian