The Logistics of your Mental Load

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Paving the Way for Creative Thought

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You’ve probably heard the phrase “Work smarter, not harder”, but what about “Think better, not more”? According to a study published in Psychological Science last month, when we are consumed with a high quantity of thoughts (i.e., “high mental load”), our ability to think creatively is significantly hindered.[1]

According to the study, individuals possess a “natural tendency to explore and…favor novelty”; however when their mental loads are high, their minds will seek out the most familiar solution in an effort to conserve limited mental energy. When their minds are clear, on the other hand, they are more likely to move beyond routine responses and default to an innovative mode of thought.

There are benefits to having quick, routine responses whenever they are balanced with creative thought. Unfortunately, the latter tends to be overshadowed by mental loads that build up as a function of our daily lives, whether it’s ruminating over all of the things that we need to accomplish at work before the end of the day, memorizing the kids’ weekly schedule, or running through our “mental recipe box” to decide what to make for dinner. Then there are the more pathological forms of rumination that can lead to depression and/or anxiety. Regardless of origin, all of these “mental loads” accumulate, decreasing the capacity for creative thought while increasing the risk for stress-related diseases.

So what can we do to help clear our minds and improve our creativity? Moshe Bar, a neuroscientist and professor at Harvard Medical School, suggests that meditation is one of the most powerful tools in battling mental load. “Meditative practice helps free the mind to have richer experiences of the present,” he notes, recommending that everyone try it at least once.[1] The “mental dump” has also become a popular way of freeing up space for creativity. This buzz phrase refers to the act of writing down everything that comes to your mind, acknowledging that you will address these issues when you are able, and focusing on the task at hand (and theoretically the creative thoughts should now have plenty of room to flow!).[2] Other suggestions for clearing your mind including exercise (with music to activate the frontal lobe), taking power naps,  and talking with friends. [3]

[1]Bar, Moshe. (2016).Think Less, Think Better. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/19/opinion/sunday/think-less-think-better.html?_r=0

[2] Frey, Chuck. (2013). How to Clear your Mind or Distractions and Free it up for Creative Thinking. Retrieved from http://www.innovationmanagement.se/2013/05/29/how-to-clear-your-mind-of-distractions-and-free-it-up-for-creative-thinking/

[3] The Huffington Post (2014). 6 Ways To Clear Your Mind From All The Clutter. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/18/ways-to-clear-your-mind_n_4981108.html

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Repost – 3 Scientifically Proven Ways to Optimize Your Brain

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Gray Matter Matters

Minda Zetlin wrote an article on Inc.com that gets us thinking…about our brains. The co-founders of a software company called Aditazz  found that two very capable employees,  and architect and an engineer, were going about a project from two different approaches. And therefore, they found they had difficulty moving forward.

“Innovation comes from com­bining disciplines, but people in different disciplines don’t think the same way.”

They discovered the root of the problem was in the brain. Zetlin writes that the idea “that the right brain hemisphere controls creativity and the left logic has been debunked. But research shows that the left brain is more responsible for language, whereas the right takes care of spatial processing and attention.” The differences in processes from each person at Aditazz stemmed from their differences in their brains. The engineer preferred one approach, but the architect preferred something totally different.

So what did they do? They decided to revamp their startup meetings. Normally, they would hold a one to two-hour meeting that would get off-course, and it would result in very little being accomplished. Instead, Aditazz decided to take a different approach. They created a different space, with comfortable seating, snacks, and plenty of space for people to sit as a group. This gave employees a space to take their own approaches, but then feel comfortable enough to share those with others. The group discussed what success meant and learned more about each other’s thought processes. As a result, the employees felt safe and open to collaboration with one another. Employees felt more friendliness and empathy towards one another as well.

Click here to read the full article.

How can this translate into your work? Zetlin identifies three neuro lessons to program your brain for better performance:

  1. Beware the Nonconscious – think body language. Your body language transmits powerful, nonconscious, cues that are very quickly perceived and processed.
  2. Mind Over Matter – get yourself pumped up before giving a big speech, meditate or picture something calming when you’re stressed.
  3. Make People Comfortable – create spaces where people feel safe and can enjoy themselves. Choices are driven by the brain’s priority of avoiding risk and seeking rewards.

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