Anywhere but your desk, if you’re like most knowledge workers and leaders. And probably not at work either.
In fact, according to Dr. David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Group, surveys show that only about 10% of people say they do their best thinking at work.
Instead, individuals tend to get good ideas while driving, exercising, reading, meditating or talking to others.
That’s because we automatically tap into our unconsciousness to do most of our thinking. It doesn’t require effort on our part, as David Rock explains. Even better, our unconsciousness—which can seem as vast as the Milky Way—makes powerful connections for us.
By contrast, we must exert energy to use our pint-sized pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for “executive functions.” In general terms, these cover planning, problem solving, verbal reasoning, remembering, paying attention, monitoring, initiating and other actions that require information processing.
The pre-frontal cortex tires easily. (If you have doubts, just do some math quickly in your head—without the benefit of a calculator. Add 37 plus 52 less 13 divided by 2. You’ll be one up where we started. You also may be annoyed with me for putting your brain through these paces.)
So why do we (and our bosses) think we can power through the workday relying only on our pre-frontal cortex? It’s especially challenging when we’re dashing from one meeting to the next and juggling many complex issues under tight deadlines. Plus, much of what we’re doing is either new or setting up new work processes and habits for ourselves and others.
This is yet another example of how a major disconnect exists between what science knows and what business does. Offices are not brain-friendly settings.
So even though your work day and environment may not be conducive for you to give your prefrontal cortex frequent rest breaks, you can take steps to milk your unconsciousness. By doing so, you can improve the quality of your thinking.
Before I share the tips, note these two caveats:
a. Each person’s brain is unique so what works for you may vary. Use these tips as stepping stones to experiment.
b. The brain is a complex organ. This information—if you haven’t noticed already—is extremely elementary. The purpose is not to insult your brain, but instead to give you easy-to-use guidelines.
Now, for the steps I learned from David Rock, which I successfully use for myself and with my coaching clients:
Follow them in this order.
1. Quiet your brain. Start by putting aside all of the electronic gadgets that stimulate you and your brain. You also may want to close your eyes.
2. Let your mind wander. (And yes, continue to keep your hands and eyes off of your smart phone, laptop, tablet and anything else with a switch.)
3. Put yourself in a positive state. (You don’t have to go as far as Peter Pan and think of happy thoughts. After all, you’re not trying to fly; instead, you want to improve your thinking. You’ll go farther though if you stay away from the dark side of anything.)
4. Do something else other than work on the issue, problem or dilemma you’re facing. (It’s as if you’re a chef, marinating a piece of meat or vegetables. You need to leave them be for a period of time so they soak up the juices of the marinade and become tender and flavorful.)
Your unconsciousness will go to work, making the connections that the brain loves to do. And you might get some insights as well as ideas.
If you want to speed up the process or you want to deepen your insights, think about your thinking. Ask yourself some questions, such as “What do I feel about this insight?” “How clear is this?” “What can I do next with these insights?”
Or, you can take a nap. When you sleep, your brain quiets down even further. And your brain consolidates, groups and categorizes your memories. Yes, this is the value of “sleeping on it.”
And yet another option if you’re searching for creative ideas, go to a coffee shop or someplace else with background noise that’s different from your usual setting. “….Walking out of one’s comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas,” report the researchers in the study “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition.”
Now, if you continue to run into impasses or you’re not overcoming them as quickly as you’d like, it’s time to get a coach. (Contact me if you want to explore coaching.)
Meanwhile, let the journey begin! Are you ready to travel the Milky Way of your unconsciousness?
Connect the dots plus dot the “i”s to be more intentional, inquisitive and inclusive
How well are you tapping into the skills and wisdom you need to lead in a BANI world?
All the old playbooks are out-of-date. Instead, you need to reach inside yourself, tap into your wisdom, and connect the dots for yourself and others.
To start, you can use these 5 tips to embrace your humanity and become a better leader.