Monday, May 11, 2009
How to improve your mind
It seems that according to the new UK Wired (which I havent seen a live version for yet but I should) that I am improving my mind all the time. I constantly daydream, Im constantly distracted, I dont usually panic (Im australian Im supposed to be laidback). I like to think I experiment. I also trust my instincts but I guess the key thing is to get other people to trust them too. Check out the article from Jonah Lehrer
Daydream Derided as procrastination, daydreaming is one of the most metabolically intense types of thinking. Brain scans show that during daydreaming the front and back parts of the brain interact very closely, jumbling together old and new ideas to create a sort of intellectual remix. It’s the ideal mode of thought to come up with something you haven’t thought of ten times before. Really difficult problems benefit from this type of cognitive process because it allows you to think of the same thing in a completely new way. So if you’ve been staring out of the window and suddenly have that “aha!” moment, it’s time to get out your notebook.
Distract yourself The pre-frontal cortex, the rational part of our brain that deals with logical thought, is like a muscle: ask too much of it and it becomes depleted. That’s why taking a break for a cup of tea or a breath of fresh air really works if you get stuck on a particular mental task. In an experiment, Walter Mischel, a psychology professor at Columbia University, asked four-year-olds to resist eating a marshmallow. Those who distracted themselves were able to resist for longer than those who kept staring at it. He studied the same cohort as teenage students and found that the resisters were getting better grades – probably because they had better willpower. This process is known as metacognition – being aware of what’s going on in your head and how to deal with it. Mischel is now studying the cohort in their 40s to see if there’s a genetic basis.
Trust your instincts When faced with a big decision that means processing lots of different information, such as buying a new car or house, don’t just rely on your rational brain. It latches on to reasons that sound good – buy that house in the suburbs because it has a bigger garden. But it doesn’t recognise that the 45-minute commute to work in the City is going to get you down. Your emotional brain needs to come into play, too. It’s like a super-computer, taking in lots of variables, analysing them below the surface, then spitting out the answer in what we’d describe as a gut feeling.
Don’t panic If you’ve ever wondered why Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson could chew gum for Scotland during a tough game, it’s because he’s learned to put all his anxiety into his teeth. Scientists used to think that people who coped better in stressful situations had less active amygdalas – the primitive part of the brain that controls reactions such as fear. Now scans show that this is not the case. Some people learn to override fear by chewing gum or taking deep breaths. But we also need to train our prefrontal cortex to think differently. It’s one reason why pilots go into flight simulators.
Experiment Our decisions are often driven by assumptions, but is what you believe actually true? Tor Wager, a professor at Columbia University, gave students painful electric shocks. Then he told them he was applying painkilling cream – and they reported less pain. The cream was ordinary moisturiser. Test your brain to make sure that your expectations are really what happens. Investment bankers – are you listening?