Are you misusing your brain? If you struggle with decisions, lack willpower or hesitate over whether or not to trust your gut – you might be. Jonah Lehrer is a former neuroscience technician and author of How We Decide. He says thankfully, there are certain things you can do every day that’ll help your brain function better and make decisions easier. Here they are, courtesy of Real Simple magazine.
- First: Tap into your emotions. Lehrer says our conscious thoughts are only a fraction of what’s going on in our brains. At any given moment, our unconscious mind is taking in huge amounts of information that we’re not even aware of – and processing it all quickly. Based in its conclusions, the brain generates emotions. So, don’t disregard that subtle feeling telling you to avoid the salmon special, or steer clear of that guy on the street. Your personal supercomputer is trying to tell you something. Pay attention.
- Next: Take long walks! Studies show that moments of insight often arrive when you’re not even aware that you’re thinking about an issue. Like when you’re taking a shower, or on a long walk. Lehrer says that insights are typically generated by a rush of neural activity in the brain’s right hemisphere. The mind is better able to tune into that hemisphere when it’s stress-free or focused on an instinctual activity. For instance, you don’t have to consciously think of how to shower – you just do it automatically. That frees up your mind to think of other things.
- One last way to have a better functioning brain: Don’t expect to diet AND memorize a speech. It turns out that the prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain responsible for willpower AND cognitive thought, is easily depleted. In a recent study, dieters who were asked to remember a seven-digit number, and then offered a snack, were more likely to choose chocolate cake over salad than those who were asked to remember only one digit. That’s because the first group’s self control “muscles” were exhausted from trying to remember the long number. Lehrer says it’s important to realize that, yes, you CAN do everything – just not all at once.