I talk a lot about the brain.
I talk so much about the brain that one of my clients referred to me as “Josh the Brain Guy”. The name stuck.
My interest in the brain goes back to when I was in high school. I remember being asked “what do you want to pursue as a career?”I spouted off 10 different ideas.
“Oh, that’s interesting” my guidance counselor said. Eventually he suggested I work with for the telephone company as a lineman.
Ironically, ten years later I owned a company in the Los Angeles area that employed telephone linemen.
In high school I was one of those weird kids who wasn’t quite nerdy enough to be in the computer club, was too athletic to be a wonk, and was too well-dressed to be a hippie.
Besides sports, my biggest overall interest was the brain. I remember being told that we only use 10 percent of our brain’s total capacity. This was in the early 80s.
“What would happen if we actually used 100 percent of our brains,” I asked myself. I’ve spent a career pursuing answers to that question.
I was always innately curious about human behavior as well. This curiosity was a great advantage for me in business. I was able to predict with some accuracy how my competitors, managers, or just plain assholes would behave.
I remember visiting one of my biggest customers in southern California, Cedars-Sinai Hospital. I “walked the job” with one of my managers and met some of the doctors and administrators. I was particularly drawn to the large MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanners. I spoke to a doctor about scanning the brains of patients. I was fascinated.
It turns out it has taken many decades for neuroscience to finally admit some truths about the brain that have only been revealed in the last 25 years because of technology. Today, neuroscientists are able to unravel the mysteries of the brain to literally see what we are thinking. What was once considered epistemology and philosophy of mind is now considered a physical science.
Armed with the many changing ideas about how the brain actually works, I have noticed 3 recent discoveries that I feel everyone should know about the brain. To my surprise these discoveries are not well known to psychologists, therapists, coaches, healers, and medical doctors.
- 1Your brain cannot see your future without seeing your past- According to a 2007 study at the University of Washington-St Louis, the past and the future fire in overlapping areas of the brain. This means when it comes to envisioning your future your brain will access your past. In essence, your past is your future, and your future is your past in brain terms. Freud referred to this as “repetition compulsion”, a term describing the repeated behavior from past “ruptures” and negative experiences in our childhoods that we compulsively act out as adults. The bottom line is that you have to deal with your past if you are going to change your future. Not doing so will result in repeated patterns of destructive behaviors that may leave you wondering “why does this keep happening to me?”
- 2Your brain makes up reality all of the time- According to French neuroscientist Alain Bertoz the brain is a simulation machine. Your brain interprets reality using your senses, particularly your eyes. When you look at the world you’re not seeing objects as much as photons bouncing around at ridiculous speeds that are interpreted through your retina (light-sensitive brain tissue inside your eyes) and sent to the visual cortex (in the back of your brain) for interpretation. Your brain is constantly on the look-out for new data to interpret to “fill-in-the-blanks”. For exmple, if I leave a letter out of a word in a sentence your brain will interpret that word to make sense of the sentence like it just did (exmple wasn’t a typo). What you see isn’t “real” in terms of objects, but your brain interprets what you see and tries to make sense of it. This means it is easy to make up reality. This works well if you can train your brain to envision your future using meditation and visualization in what some sports psychologists call “visual motor rehearsal“. This technique is purportedly used by top athletes like 2-time Olympic gold medalist Mo Farrah to rehearse every aspect of the race in his brain before the race ever begins.
- 3The best way to speed up your brain is to slow it down- The new science of mindfulness supports the idea that slowing life down mentally by taking breaks is the secret to healing your brain. By breathing, even spending a few minutes meditating, you can optimize your brain’s performance by reducing stress. Because stress actually shrinks your brain, thinking too much or doing too many things at once could actually reduce your brain’s performance. Take a moment now and inhale deeply through your nose, hold for 5 seconds and then exhale through your mouth. Try it again. Inhale, hold for 5 seconds, and exhale through your mouth. Do you notice anything different? Are you still thinking that stressful thought? Did your body relax? If your body is relaxed your brain is optimized. Taking short breathers helps you enhance your brain’s performance and improves your brain’s overall health.
It’s a good thing I pursued my bliss rather than working for the telephone company.
I regularly teach these and other discoveries about the brain to my clients in The Brain Detox webinars. We also practice breathing and meditation techniques to support healthy brain development. The more you can practice “visually rehearsing” yourself calm, breathing and learning to stay relaxed under pressure, the higher your performance at crunch time.