Manage Emotions

Use Your Body to Boost Mental Performance

Cognition is embodied. That is, how well you think and learn is in part controlled by how you use your body.  We have covered many examples of how this works in the Next Brain Blog including stepping back for better emotional control, talking with your hands, thinking by walking around, posture effects (e.g. folding your arms) and short-duration physical activities interspersed with study.

See Use Your Body to Improve Thinking Instantly for more details.

Now the PsyBlog offers an excellent summary in 8 Easy Bodily Actions that Transform Mental Performance.  These include for example, how using a deep voice can improve abstract thinking, a power stance  can improve your sense of control, and  just imaging  yourself walking towards an important person or object can increase a sense of mastery.

Some of these are new to me and I am actively experimenting with them. Interested to hear from readers that have tried them out.

15 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - August 14, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Categories: Lifestyle, Manage Emotions, Memory and Learning, Mental Focus, Problem Solving, Training   Tags:

More Evidence for Mind-Body Techniques

In the Next Brain Blog we look at  evidence-based techniques for achieving peak mental performance at any age.   What can we do to maintain brain health and improve cognitive performance?

Several posts have focused on mind-body techniques.  Such techniques ask us to focus on the connection between how we think and feel and various bodily functions and activities.  Yoga, mindful breathing and mediation are examples.  While such techniques are often viewed as fuzzy or new age, we have been documenting the growing evidence for how they improve brain function and cognitive performance on the Next Brain blog.

Additional evidence was recently published by the Boston University School of Medicine. They conduct a class with 27 medical students on Embodied Health: Mind-Body Approaches to Well-Being. It ran for 11 weeks and covered the neuroscience and methods for slow breathing, resistance breathing, Yoga, the placebo effect and mindful mediation practices. Students were asked to practice the methods at least three times per week.

Assessments before and after the course revealed a statistically significant improvement in the student’s capacity for self-regulation and self-compassion.

Self-regulation is our ability to manage our thoughts, feelings and impulses in order to achieve planned behaviors and goals.  A  capability that is essential for improvement, success and well-being in any walk of life.

For more information you can access the entire article for free. Be sure to check out table one that lists the topics and required readings for the course.

While the Boston work does not surface any new techniques it does add to the evidence for the effectiveness on the mind-body approach.  The fact that doctors-to-be are learning about them  in medical school signals a maturing and acceptance of the the approach.

How are you using  mind-brain techniques to improve your cognitive performance?

Source of Image: Dr. Deb’s Psychological Perspectives

22 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - May 14, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Categories: Ancient Ways, Executive Function, Manage Emotions, Training   Tags:

Use Clothes to Improve Cognitive Performance

There are small things we can do with our bodies to improve brain function and cognitive performance in real-time. I have documented many of these techniques on the Cognitive Design blog and you can find them under the tag embodied cognition. Some examples:

  • Holding objects can improve certain types of reasoning and recall
  • Walking can improve thinking
  • Clenching muscles amplifies will power
  • Stepping back from a difficult situation can trigger higher cognitive functions
  • Feeling warm or cold primes our emotional judgments about other people
  • Swaying back and fourth can improve reflection
  • Making hand gestures can improve learning and recall
  • Short duration physical breaks (e.g. playing catch) between sessions improves conceptual learning
  • Body posture impacts how confident we are about our beliefs and thinking abilities.

So our minds work in part by the way we use our bodies. Now new research indicates that cognitive performance can also be tuned by the clothing we put on our bodies or  so-called enclothed cognition. For example:

“If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. But if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.”

Our cognitive performance improves when we believe we are wearing smart clothes!

I am interested to hear from readers that use clothes that they believe make them smarted. Could be tie, top or outfit you wear to perform well on a test or during an interview.  Please describe it and explain why it works.

23 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - September 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Categories: Manage Emotions, Memory and Learning, Mental Focus   Tags:

Some Foods Boost Moods Like Prescription Drugs

Being in a positive mood can speed learning, deepen creativity and otherwise improve our cognitive performance. So I am always on the lookout for scientific research on how to create and sustain positive moods. For example, at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers reported:

“The large body of evidence that chemicals in chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, teas and certain foods could well be mood-enhancers encourages the search for other mood modulators in food,” noted Martinez-Mayorga”

We have reported on some of these foods before in the Next Brain Blog because there is evidence they boost brain function and cognitive performance directly. Some are new – teas, raspberries and strawberries. Interestingly, the active ingredient that seems to be doing the work is similar to the active ingredient (valproic acid) in prescription mood stabilizers such as Depakene, Depakote and Stavzor.

What techniques do you use to enhance and prolong productive moods?

13 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - August 23, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Categories: Diet, Manage Emotions   Tags:

Can the ABCs Unblock Your Mental Performance?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has seen a lot of success over the last 25 years.  The ideas is that faulty assumptions or patterns of thinking can seriously impair how we learn, make decisions, socialize or otherwise perform cognitive functions.  In CBT the therapist works with the patient to surface the faulty pattern of thinking and change it thereby relieving the problems. The tools of CBT have been incorporated in other disciplines such as leadership, design and self improvement.

As a self-improvement approach the individual attempts to surface and alter faulty assumptions pretty much on their own.  While the success of the self-improvement approach has not been scientific demonstrated it does seem to have staying power. More and more books, programs and training events are aimed at how individuals can use CBT to manage their owning thinking and improve cognitive performance.   Such programs are typically focused on learning:

  • The ABC formula (see diagram) or the connection between activating events, the beliefs they generate and the emotional consequent or feeling we have
  • How to analyze self talk especially those messages we repeat
  • Ways to identify patterns of dysfunctional thinking (e.g. over generalizing or catastrophizing)
  • Techniques for modifying the patterns  (e.g. confronting and flooding).

For example you can use this approach to identify and mitigate the negative self-talk that stops you from taking action, making a difficult decision or giving a presentation.   To explore CBT further  you can work through a short online presentation developed by James Porter or check out CBT for Dummies.

Interested to hear from readers that have used CBT by themselves or with a therapist to improve cognitive performance.

Source:  ABC Diagram

23 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - October 20, 2011 at 1:48 am

Categories: Books, Manage Emotions, Mental Focus, Training   Tags:

Use Tech to Manage Your 12,000 Daily Thoughts

According to a widely quoted National Science Foundation Study, on average we have 12,000 thoughts per day. And it can run as many as 60,000 thoughts per day.   I have been unable to locate the original study. No matter, we have all experienced the constant self talk and flow of ideas that make up everyday experience.

How do we mange so many ideas? Are there ways to manage our idea flow that will improve cognitive performance in decision making, self-regulation and creative problem solving?

Well known techniques for managing daily idea flow include journaling, keeping a notepad by your bed and other methods of trying to write them down. There is value in that but it is very low tech.  Powerful but simple tools like Evernote, give us a way of quickly capturing our idea flow electronically (phone or computer) and relating it to other on-line documents and information.

The very act of documenting our idea flow slows it down and changes it. We may lose important notions.  Fortunately, voice recognition technology has advanced to the point where we can reliably capture our thought by speaking to our phone or computer. Check out the Dragon line of naturally speaking products from Nuance.  They have dictation and voice recognition products for every need including the iPhone dictation app shown below.

But will using technology to smoothly capture our thought flows improve our cognitive performance?

There is some evidence it does.  For example, in the June 2011 issue of Wired, Clive Thompson argues in his story, Hold That Thought, that voice recognition technology may help us be more creative and over come mental challenges such as writer’s block.

From a general standpoint, having a transcript of all our thoughts in a given day could provide many insights. For example, we could identify patterns of self-talk that are negative or see bits of important ideas that might otherwise have been lost.

This summer I am planning to do some simple experiments at Northwestern University with students in my cognitive design class on capturing and analyzing daily though flows. I will blog the results. In the meantime, I am interested to hear from readers on how you capture daily thoughts and use that to improve cognitive performance.

13 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - May 25, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Categories: Manage Emotions, Problem Solving, Software   Tags:

Learning Self Control Early Drives Success

Developing Your Next Brain, or making an effort to improve brain function and reach peak cognitive performance takes a lot of work. One reason we do it is to live a more successful life.  While life success has many facets most agree that a cornerstone is self control. Being able to shape our own thinking and emotional responses, manage impulses, avoid self defeating assumptions and persistence in the face of obstacles is critical to living the good life.  This has little to do with IQ and a lot to do with your ability to manage yourself.

There is considerable evidence to support this claim. Take for example, the recent research reported in Science News that suggests:

Good self management skills as early as age three predict health and wealth in adulthood.

The findings are dramatic:

“Low levels of conscientiousness, perseverance and other elements of self-control in youngsters as young as age 3 herald high rates of physical health problems, substance abuse, financial woes, criminal arrests and single parenthood by age 32, says an international team led by psychologists Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi of Duke University in Durham, N.C.”

How can children develop higher levels of self-control?  Research from another group reported in the article claimed behavioral rewards,  developing coping skills and role playing simulation using videotape are key. None of this is rocket science. For example, coping skills can include blowing bubbles and making funny faces. The rub is to learn to do these things rather than getting angry or stressed and yelling at others or giving up on a goal.

Very interested to hear from readers that have experience with specific techniques for improving self control and self management skills in children.

14 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - March 3, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Categories: Child, Executive Function, Manage Emotions, Other, Training   Tags: ,

Does Emotional Intelligence Peak in Your 60s?

Emotional intelligence is our ability to spot, manage and generate emotions in ourselves and others. It appears to correlate better to life success than IQ.  Emotional intelligence is not taught in school, it is learned (by some) through life experience.  So it should be no surprise that it should improve as we age.

According to recent research from the University of California at Berkley, some aspects of emotional intelligence appear to peak in our 60s. These include:

  • Effective use of positive reappraisal (seeing the bright side of things) to reinterpret negative situations in a positive way.
  • Sensitivity to sadness or the ability to empathize with those feeling sad.

These are important findings as they help to further dispel the myth of universal cognitive decline with age.  Understanding which aspects of cognitive performance naturally improve as we age should shape our approach to brain fitness.

Interested to hear from readers that have noticed improvements in Emotional Intelligence in older adults.

35 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - December 23, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Categories: IQ and EQ, Lifestyle, Manage Emotions, Older Adult   Tags: ,

Mom’s Brain Bulks Up After Giving Birth

Exciting new research suggests that a mother’s brain undergoes significant growth (actually gets larger)  in several areas just after birth. Additional brain volume in turn leads to improved cognitive performance. Specifically, hormonal changes seem to trigger improvements in maternal motivation, emotional processing, sensory integration and reasoning and judgment.

The research is reported in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience and summarized nicely in Science Daily.

“In particular, the mothers who most enthusiastically rated their babies as special, beautiful, ideal, perfect and so on were significantly more likely to develop bigger mid-brains than the less awestruck mothers in key areas linked to maternal motivation, rewards and the regulation of emotions.”

Although motherhood is not a strategy for improving brain function and cognitive performance it does seem to have that effect.  Especially for those that truly cherish what they have.  This is a fry cry from some commonly held beliefs that motherhood can “turn your brain into mush”. It may seem that way with the all additional responsibilities, learning that must be done and the new things to remember but that is how growth normally feels.

Just as the aging mind ripens in many ways with time, taking on the responsibilities of motherhood appears to push the brain to a whole new level of performance.

33 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - October 25, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Categories: Cognitive Development, Lifestyle, Manage Emotions, Parent   Tags:

Does Inner Voice Improve Cognitive Performance?

We all have an inner voice. In fact, we talk to ourselves silently throughout the day.  Our inner voice is a big part of our mental life but what role does it play in improving brain function and cognitive performance?

Found an interesting new study from the University of Toronto that suggest Inner Voice Plays a Role in Self Control.  Here is what they claim:

“Through a series of tests, we found that people acted more impulsively when they couldn’t use their inner voice or talk themselves through the tasks,” says Inzlicht. “Without being able to verbalize messages to themselves, they were not able to exercise the same amount of self control as when they could talk themselves through the process.”

What kind of self talk works best?  There has been a lot written on avoiding negative self talk especially if it involves cognitive distortions (e.g. I NEVER do anything right) as well as the power of positive self talk.   The interesting thing about the Toronto study is that it did not control for the tone of your inner voice. Common sense suggests keeping neutral or positive and task focused is best.

Like to hear from readers that use inner voice to improve cognitive performance. What do you say and why do you think it works?

20 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - September 24, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Categories: Executive Function, Lifestyle, Manage Emotions, Mental Focus, Training   Tags:

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