Train your brain for top performance

Have you ever heard that people only use 10% of their brain? This myth has been around for a long time, and it seems like it may very well be here to stay. Unfortunately, people who subscribe to this belief often feel like they could achieve more…if only they were able to tap into the unused parts of their brain!   But here’s the good news: you don’t need to discover a secret pathway to hidden neural paths in your brain. You can train your brain.  As it turns out, we use our ENTIRE brain over the course of a single day! In fact, most of the brain is active almost all the time.

Why this is important: you ultimately get to decide how much of your own potential you want to release. You don’t need a secret manual to show you how to unlock the ‘other 90%’ of your brain. Your brain is a tool that’s available to you in full right now! So whether you want to learn a new skill, learn a new language, improve your memory, or so on, you already have everything you need to train your brain.

Shifting mindsets

In fact, Julia Sperling, a medical doctor with a background in neuroscience and a faculty member at McKinsey Leadership Development, pursues work that focuses on shifting mindsets and behaviors by highlighting beliefs and biases that constrain personal growth, learning, and job performance. According to her, the latest research suggests that the brain is infinitely more capable of learning in myriad ways, with positive reinforcement, focus, and a growth mindset.

So let’s talk about positive reinforcement, focus, and a growth mindset in particular. Because when we hone in on these three learning methods, we’ll find that we’re able to train our brain to perform at its best, and thereby we’ll improve our performance both in our professional lives and our personal lives.

Positive Reinforcement

At some point, you might have learned about the importance of creating a mission statement or a list of values. Why is this important? Because it gives you a ‘why’ for what you do.

No one wants to feel as if they’re just ‘existing’ in this life. Among the basic needs, people require to have a fulfilling life is a sense of purpose. In other words: what drives you? What is the reason that you wake up every day? Also, what are you working toward in life? What are your dreams and hopes and goals?

Knowing this puts everything else into better focus. It helps you understand why you’re going to the office every day, why you’re learning those new skills, why you’re putting in the extra hours at the gym, etc.

Once you have your mission statement that drives you, it’s important that you couple it with positive reinforcement (praise, recognition, positive feedback, etc.). While it seems to be the default behaviour for most of us to be our own worst critic, this doesn’t help your brain reach its potential. It’s only when you create an environment where you can enjoy learning and bettering yourself that your brain will start to thrive. So reward your endeavours! When you accomplish a new milestone, celebrate it. Make the experience fun, and you’ll train your brain to enjoy the process, which in turn will make you want to continue on your path of self-improvement.

Train your brain with focus

We live in a world where people are bent on multi-tasking. You might believe that when you multi-task, you’re getting more done. However, recent research actually proves the exact opposite. According to researchers at Stanford University, multitasking reduces your efficiency because your brain can only focus on one thing at once. When you focus on more than one thing, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

A University of London study found that multitasking can even lower your IQ, and according to researchers at Sussex University, it can have negative effects on your brain. More specifically, they found that multi-taskers had less brain density in a region of the brain associated with empathy and cognitive control.

The moral of the story? Avoid multi-tasking at all costs. Instead, focus your brainpower and mental energy on one thing at a time. You’ll learn much more effectively and perform at your best.

Many productive people will set specific blocks of time on their calendar for the tasks they want to get done. They get rid of all distractions (the internet, email, phone calls, etc.) and focus on that one task during that block of time—no excuses! Setting a timer can be especially helpful, as it allows you to tune everything else out in your race against the clock.

Growth Mindset

Simply put, the growth mindset is believing that you can learn. Earlier in this post, we discussed a common myth about learning: you can only use 10% of your brain. Unfortunately, such myths often keep people from reaching their potential. In other words, we sell ourselves short because we accept the myth that we’re not able to learn in the way we want to learn.

Stereotypes especially come into play here. If, before an exam, you tell a classroom of boys and girls that the males will perform better than their female counterparts, you may very well see the girls perform below average. If, however, female students are told that they can perform just as well as their male peers, they will believe it and will perform above average.

A growth mindset is all about believing in your ability to learn whatever’s put in front of you. Its a factor in how you train your brain. When we believe we can…we often will!

So what can you do about developing a growth mindset? It’s all about what you tell yourself. Mindfulness meditation in the morning, for instance, can significantly improve your readiness to take in new information and boost feelings of positivity. Many top performers rely on reciting positive affirmations at the beginning of their day in a sort of self-directed pep-talk, while you’ve probably heard of athletes who utilise ‘creative visualization’ to envision what it is they want to achieve (a basketball going through the net, for instance). There are a variety of tools out there. It’s all about trying them on for size and deciding which ones fit into your lifestyle and help you achieve more.

Are you ready to train your brain?

Are you ready to train your brain for top performance this year? With the help of positive reinforcement, focus, and a growth mindset, you’ll be amazed by what you’re able to accomplish. Adopting these new behaviours, many individuals have gone on to live more fulfilling, rewarding, and productive days. As they say, the sky’s the limit…although perhaps it would be more fitting to say the only limits that exist are the ones we put on ourselves. Your brain’s ready to be the sharpest tool at your disposal—give it what it needs, and see how your life changes.

Ros Cardinal

Rosalind Cardinal is the Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, a consultancy specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ros is a solutions and results oriented facilitator and leadership coach, with a career in the Human Resources and Organisational Development field spanning more than 20 years. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, emotional intelligence, organisational behaviour, employee engagement, strategic direction and management.
Ros is a Certified Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute (CAHRI), a member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) and a Professional Member of the Australian Association for Psychological Type (AusAPT). She holds a Graduate Diploma in Human Resources from Deakin University, an Australian Human Resources Institute Professional Diploma in Human Resources and has completed the Australian Graduate School of Management Executive Program, Strategic Human Resource Management.