We have learned so much about the brain in the past years. Why do we plan the same way we did decades ago? In this blog, we will look at some basic truths we know from neuroscience and how they can be transformative when applied to our life-planning.
After graduate school, I had the privilege of working as a counselor intern with patients who were in rehabilitation from traumatic brain injuries. I served on a multi-disciplinary team of neuropsychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists to empower our patients to achieve their highest level of functioning following their injuries. During this season of my life, I soaked up everything I could about the brain.
In this blog, I want to highlight just a few things we know from basic neuroscience that can be useful in our everyday lives, especially as it relates to setting our goals and accomplishing them.
A relaxed state of mind is best.
With regard to planning, we do better to plan in a relaxed state of mind. We actually have better brain function due to increased oxygen flow in a state of relaxation than we do in a state of stress. You know of this idea already in the opposite sense. When we are stressed, our body moves in the fight, flight, or freeze mode. When this occurs, access to the forward thinking, executive functioning, emotional regulating, and reasoning portions of the brain are cut off.
So, when you want you do your best planning, take time to think time. Take a walk. Remove yourself from the hustle and bustle. And, relax. You will plan better.
Think about your thinking.
Did you know that 90% of your thoughts today are the same ones you had yesterday? Our brain is wired so that we think in patterns developed over time. This works well for us in many ways, but what do we do when we need to think differently? How do we get to a higher level? Over an obstacle? Or, to a new place?
The answer is to think about our thinking. When we choose to not just be lost in our thoughts, we are able to get above our thinking and to actually observe and evaluate it. This new center of attention changes things, and voila! new neural pathways begin to form.
Use both hemispheres of your brain.
Most of us know that our brain has two main hemispheres: the left-brain and the right-brain. The left brain can be described in words like logical, sequential, orderly, verbal, linear, and focused on parts. The right brain can be described as more creative, emotional, imaginative, nonverbal, artistic, and seeing the whole.
When you think about the typical planning tools and processes, for which side of the brain are they designed? That’s right. The left brain…only.
You were designed with two parts of your brain, and your best planning will incorporate both sides of the brain. We definitely want to continue to utilize logic, sequence, order, words, and looking at the parts when we plan. However, there are very important aspects of the right brain that are important to consider when we are planning. Did you know that the right brain has more thorough neural connections to the rest of the brain than the left brain and uses these to form decision-making rules over time? These rules that contain our life wisdom are then stored in a nonverbal form. To gain access to these deep truths of life, we do not need to sit down and make a list of things to do. We need to allow for daydreaming, creative thinking, emotions, pictures, images, and a view of life that incorporates big picture “whole” perspectives.
Planning with your left brain only can lead to a tragic result–a very efficient life lived in the wrong direction. Do your best to avoid this tragedy by including your wise right brain in your life-planning process.
Allow your mind to drift.
There are two main benefits of allowing your mind to drift: aha! moments and social connection.
The first is the “aha!” moment. We know when our best ideas finally come together…when we are not trying! We are doing something “mindless” like washing the dishes, walking the dog, or taking a shower. During these times, we are usually allowing our mind to drift. While you might think the brain is less active during these times than when we are concentrating or focusing on a problem, it is actually as much or more active. Believe it or not, parts of the brain crucial in executive function–planning and focusing attention–are particularly active.
When you have a problem to solve, the best thing to do is to define your problem (using your left brain), do your best to think of a solution, and then let it go. Do something else. You are wired so that your right brain will still work on it even while you are “not thinking about it.”
The second benefit is social connection. Another surprising discovery about drift thinking is that when we allow the brain down time, we think about ourselves, others, and the relationships in between us. The brain could have been designed to focus on anything during this time–nuclear physics, logical reasoning, or categorization of animals and plants. Instead, we are designed to default to thinking about relationships. We need them, deeply.
Allow time for your relationships. Allow your mind to drift.
When we say, “take time to think time,” this is what we mean. A relaxed state of mind is best. Think about your thinking. Use both hemispheres of your brain. Allow your mind to drift. Use good neuroscience in your daily life. It’s 2016, y’all.
These are my thoughts… What are yours?
Please share in the comments below!
Christine M. Wilson, LPC
Co-Founder, Think Time
Think Time Life Leadership System
Use your whole brain to plan your whole life.
Shop now at think-time.com.