Behavior of the Week: Engage your brain

You can conceptualize most best practices as something that you do every time, or not, so you could modify the others presented in the book in a similar way. To learn the PerfectCoaches process, we encourage you to adopt at least one of the following habits and behaviors that feels right for you. Here's the first one:

Engage your brain: thank it by using it

Your brain is the seat of self-awareness. It remembers things, creates new ideas, and processes the incoming data connecting you to your teams and the world. It’s there to be used.

Engage your brain by giving each thing you do your full attention. That’s the best way to demonstrate that you appreciate its power. Not only is your brain quite possibly your best friend and greatest asset, it is an asset for your team. Give yourself a little tap to the forehead to be sure to use it at every meeting, every chance you get. Especially when you head into large meetings or classes where you are mostly a passive listener, it may be helpful to simply remind yourself to “bring your brain.” Or, for fun, look around and ask yourself if the other people brought their brain to the meeting.

When you compare your brain to a computer, don’t think about your laptop. Think about the greatest supercomputer ever built. As a human, you are endowed with an incredibly efficient information processor. Weighing just 3 pounds, about 2% of your body weight, it shares approximately 2,000 calories in energy per day with all your other muscles and organs. Your whole body is using the energy it would take to power a single light bulb, whereas supercomputers use energy that would power whole city blocks. And unlike conventional computers, your brain has an infinite number of connections and can generate new ones on its own because, unlike a computer, your brain—and you—are alive.

Don’t just engage your brain, but thank it. Thank your brain? Why not? There it is, working away between your ears and behind eyes. Not only does it remember things, not only does it create new ideas, it processes the enormous volume of incoming data—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, scents, sensations of touch and bodily motion—you use to move through the world each day.

Heightening the powers of this information processing wonder are the connections it makes. There’s your spinal cord, a powerful system even though it is only about the diameter of your middle finger. Tracts of nerves within your spinal cord carry input from the sensory organs to your brain. Tracts of nerves exiting your brain control the whole show, carrying the output information that initiates muscle movement and controls body functions.

Also exiting your brain are your cranial nerves which, at some risk of oversimplification, manage how your face, mouth, nose and head perform for you. The facial expressions that give clues to your inner experiences are controlled by these cranial nerves.

Just as you tap your forehead as a reminder to engage your brain, thanking your brain with a small gesture like a pat on the forehead can also be a good idea. You can also thank your brain by exercising it. Exercising your muscles improves their capabilities, and exercising your brain improves its capabilities and the quality of what it produces.

The concept of quality thinking in a business sense takes on additional meaning in the 21st century, because there is a growing awareness that our human brains are competing with computer brains in the labor force itself. The July/August 2015 edition of Foreign Affairs, for example, has a cover picture of a robot with the caption “Hi Robot.” Gideon Rose introduces the issue by noting that as the fields of automation and artificial intelligence evolve, fears have mounted over the potential for robots to “threaten our jobs, our purpose and our very self- definition as human.”

The human brain is a powerful thing, so each of us should learn how to use it to its fullest potential if for no other reason than because computer-based intelligent systems like IBM’s Watson can already do certain things (e.g., play chess or Jeopardy) better than the top human champion.

Plus, the idea of improvement idea lies at the foundation of PerfectCoaches. As a child, your brain began to acquire the capacity to do things like remember people’s names. Yet this is a skill that can be sharpened through adolescence and into adulthood. PerfectCoaches is designed to help you do new things and improve the things you already do. Don’t be afraid to exercise your brain as if it were a muscle that responds well to a vigorous workout.

For a large part of our lives, especially when we’re young, that brain we treasure is more than a nice-to-have. Rather, it’s a major resource, perhaps a weapon even, in a battle to learn what the world believes you should know. That battle is called studying, and you win it with learning as your signature skill.

When you study, your brain is acquiring a relatively well-defined set of facts and concepts. Often, though not always, that set is defined by someone else. Here it’s like your brain is marching down a path, sometimes well marked, sometimes dimly lit, sometimes having the feel of an obstacle course designed for maximum frustration.

Occasionally, you study facts and concepts of your own choosing. In this case, you have given yourself an assignment. Deadlines and other criteria for success are self-imposed. Now your brain can hum tra-la-la and skip down the path, pausing at your own discretion to concentrate on a fact or concept that is particularly interesting. No matter what you are learning or why you are learning it, you are exercising your brain.  Did you give your forehead a little tap to engage it when appropriate, and also to thank it, perhaps at the end of the day, to acknowledge all your brain did for you today?  Yes or No?

Keenan Orfalea