15 Things Your Brain Needs To Grow Career Success

Quick And Easy Ways To Advance Your Career

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Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash
Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash

If you’re like most career climbers, you might not know much about your own brain. Yet, your brain is who you are. It’s the size of your fist and weighs about as much as a cantaloupe—around three pounds. It bosses your mind and body, governs your work performance and determines how far you progress in your career. Modern imaging techniques have enabled neuroscientists to advance our understanding of the brain and what it needs for optimal job performance. So it’s a no-brainer that science shows practicing these 15 things can keep your brain happy and healthy and maximize career success.

  1. Blood Flow. Blood flow is good medicine for the brain to remain viable and creative. Regular exercise and movement amp up blood flow to the brain and even slow the onset of memory loss and dementia. You can feed your brain the excess blood it needs through aerobics, walking and stretching and toning your body to keep it crisp, engaging and in tip-top shape.
  2. Microbreaks. Working your brain into the ground is bad for business. Short breaks throughout your workday—I recommend five minutes or less of stretching, walking, gazing out a window or having a snack—enhance energy and reset your brain. Microbreaks mitigate decision fatigue and chill your brain between appointments when you deep breathe, meditate, practice yoga, tai chi or get a massage.
  3. Self-Talk. Talking to yourself allows you to develop a working relationship with your own brain for your mutual interests. At first this might sound odd, but it isn’t. First-name self-talk—the way you speak to someone else referring to yourself by name instead of as “I”—is a self-regulatory mechanism that creates psychological distance from job frustrations and disappointments. Engaging this way in dialogue with work stressors makes you feel calmer and more clear-minded.
  4. Smiling. When you smile, you can trick your brain into happiness, simply by how you move your facial muscles. We feel bad not just because facial expressions reflect how we feel, but they contribute to how we feel. When you feign a smile, it stimulates the amygdala—the emotional brain center, which in turn releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state. When your muscles say you’re happy, you’re more likely to see the world in a positive way.
  5. Mood-Boosting Foods. Healthy brain foods boost your mood, health and endurance. Check out the food on your plate and ask if it promotes overall brain health. Proteins—such as meats, poultry dairy, cheese and eggs—stabilize blood sugar and give your brain the amino acids it needs to create neurotransmitter pathways. Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines put your brain in a good mood. Vitamin B is essential for brain wellness and can be found in eggs, whole grains, fish, avocados and citrus fruits. And vitamin D is an important mood stabilizer.
  6. Ample Sleep. Your brain gets mad when it doesn’t get the rest it needs. Sleep deprivation hampers your ability to deal with job stress and can unleash anger during your workday. Lack of sleep causes your brain to move slower, cloudy thinking and forgetfulness. It interferes with memory and learning and short-circuits attention. Fragmented sleep hampers your ability to see the positive aspects of your career, making you reactive to job stressors. But ample sleep restores clarity and performance by actively refining cortical plasticity to help you manage job stress.
  7. Meditation. Mindfulness meditation and conscious deep breathing keep your brain sharp, your mind from wandering and your focus on work tasks. Meditation reduces cortisol levels by 25% and alters brain activity so you’re less error prone and make fewer mistakes after just 20 minutes of practice. Over time you can train your brain to stay calm even under turbulent workplace circumstances.
  8. Novelty. Your brain’s ability to adapt to novel situations is essential for optimal career creativity. The brain’s exposure to new experiences dampens established thought patterns in order to consolidate new information. Novelty promotes adaptive learning by resetting key brain circuits and enhances your ability to update new ideas into existing neurological frameworks. So your brain likes the creative mojo that comes from trying new things.
  9. Social Support. Having someone around—empathetic manager, coworker or someone in HR—whom you know you can talk to and will listen is tied to brain health and resilience. People who volunteer, attend classes or get together with friends at least once a week have healthier brains in the form of more robust gray matter and less cognitive decline. The key is to avoid social isolation and cultivate safe ways to maintain social interactions in order to enhance the brain’s gray matter and amp up career creativity and stamina.
  10. Focus. At some point, you might have to perform more than one activity at a time. But if multitasking becomes a pattern, it can backfire. When you bounce between several job tasks at once, you’re forcing your brain to keep refocusing with each rebound and reducing productivity by up to 40%. Multitasking undermines productivity and neutralizes efficiency, overwhelming your brain, causing fractured thinking, lack of concentration and decision fatigue.
  11. Optimism. Optimists scale the career ladder faster and farther than pessimists. Although the brain is wired for negativity for survival, it likes optimism. Chronic pessimism damages your attitude and your telomeres—the protective tips at the end of chromosomes, shortened by negative thoughts and lengthened by positive thoughts. Shortened telomeres are associated with declining health, a truncated career and earlier death. Enthusiastic and cheerful professionals are less likely to have memory decline as they age.
  12. Broad Perspective. A broad perspective allows your brain to build on the positive aspects of your career and see future possibilities. Think of a camera. You can replace your “zoom lens” which focuses on stressors by putting on a “wide-angle lens” which showcases the big picture and career possibilities. Avoid blowing disappointments out of perspective; look for the upside of a downside situation; underscore positive feedback instead of letting it roll off; focus on work solutions instead of problems; pinpoint opportunity in a challenge. Focusing on big-picture aspects of situations expands your constrictive “zoom lens” into a “wide-angle lens” and enlarges career visions.
  13. Nature. Brain scans of people who spend time outdoors show their prefrontal cortex has more gray matter and a stronger ability to think clearly and self-regulate. Your brain loves spending a minimum of two hours a week in parks, woodlands or beaches. Research participants who spent 120 minutes per week in nature had better health and higher psychological well-being than the ones who didn’t spend any weekly time in nature or those who spent less than two hours per week.
  14. Music. Repeated listening to meaningful music cultivates beneficial brain plasticity improving memory and performance. Wearing ear pods and listen to your favorite music while working can enhance engagement and productivity.
  15. Safety. Fear and uncertainty have been undermining workplace performance and well-being for as long as workplaces have existed. Under fear, the human brain focuses on how to avoid the threat instead of engaging with and producing work tasks—blocking potential for success. Work cultures of psychological safety enhance brain engagement and productivity and yield greater long-term company profits.

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