Habits that Hold Back Your Brain Performance

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In today’s health-conscious world we are constantly bombarded with advice on how we should eat, sleep and exercise to get the best result for our bodies. However, the impact of lifestyle choices on the brain is not always appreciated. Given most of us are paid to use our brains, knowing more about what prevents them from working at their peak is crucial to climbing the corporate ladder.  Here are some of the day-to-day habits you might not realize are holding you back:

Busy Mornings: For some people, bad cognitive habits begin as soon as they wake up. Each day we have a limited amount of brain power, and as we use it up our ability to make complex decisions and think creatively is reduced. After a good night’s sleep, we have a full ‘bucket’ of cognitive resource for the day. Beginning the day faced with lots of low level decisions, like worrying about what outfit to wear or what to have for breakfast, will immediately eat away at this finite resource. This risks leaving your brain less able to work to its full capacity later in the day, when you might have harder decisions to make which need additional brain power. To combat this, try practicing choice reduction – chose as many things as possible the night before, like what you are going to wear, what you are going to take in for lunch, which route you are going to take to work. By reducing the number of small decisions first thing in the morning you will increase your brain’s capacity for more complex thinking later in the day.

Hating Your Workout: Exercise is fantastic for your brain’s health - it helps oxygenate the brain and consequently improves memory, concentration and creativity. However, forcing yourself to do exercise you don’t particularly enjoy or dragging yourself to the gym could actually reduce the beneficial results, because when we practice an exercise or sport which we enjoy, something called “brain derived neurotropic factor” (BDNF) is released into the brain. BDNF will help new neurons to grow and form new connections which will in turn sharpen the mind and improve your memory.  So, think carefully about what exercise you do – take up a team sport you know you enjoy and can double up as a social activity or discover a new form of exercise which doesn’t feel like hard work.

Multi-Tasking: Trying to do lots of things at once can make us feel as though we’re being efficient because the completion of small micro-tasks can give the brain a hit of the “reward” chemical dopamine. We are more likely to be distracted now that our phones and inboxes are constantly lighting up and demanding our attention. However, in reality, the brain was not designed to multi-task. Attempting to do too many things at the same time will prevent the brain from focusing and engaging in deep problem-solving activity. A better strategy, which will produce better results, is to prioritize what you need to do, and work through each task systematically, giving it your full attention. Overlapping leisure and work time can also tire out your brain and increase stress. Keeping an eye on your inbox over the weekend might make you feel on top of your work and give you a short-term dopamine hit, however some studies have suggested that knowledge of unread emails in your inbox can reduce your effective IQ and increase levels of cortisol in your blood.


Surrounding Yourself With Stressed People: Did you know that stress can be physically contagious? Excessive levels of cortisol in your own blood can leak out through your sweat and potentially raise the cortisol levels of people around you, adapting their internal physiology. With this in mind, if you feel stressed consider the impact you may be having on those around you and take a step back. Vice versa, think about who you spend time with at work and, if you can, try to avoid those you notice are particularly stressed. Exercise can also help to combat this, as it is possible to sweat out excessive cortisol.

Better understanding the connection between the brain and the body shows that our habits might inadvertently be hindering our ability to think creatively and flexibly. Making even one small change to your lifestyle could be the difference between exhausting or powering up your brain.




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