Being able to perform well, in a whole range of areas, is highly dependent on our cognitive abilities – to be more precise, on the functioning of a specific region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is right at the front of the brain, just behind the forehead. The PFC, sometimes termed the ‘CEO’ of the brain is involved in planning complex tasks, predicting outcomes, and in decision-making. It also influences personality, emotional expression, and social behaviour. Some of us might not be surprised to learn that it is also the last part of the brain to develop fully, as we mature.
In 1848, Phineas Gage was said to have suffered major personality changes after an accident caused severe damage to his brain. He became ‘Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient’, and his case, despite some conflict between fact and fiction, demonstrated how the frontal regions of the brain had a role in complex cognitive and social functions.
So how does this relate to performance?
I use the ‘H.A.T’ acronym to remember the things that prevent the brain from putting in its very best performance limiting access to the PFC.
If you are experiencing one, or more, of these you might as well forget about being the best version of yourself. You simply cannot perform to optimum with the H.A.T.
Why is this a problem, and what can you do about it?
The brain alone can consume up to 25% of the energy available to the body. It functions on glucose, which is primarily converted from carbohydrates in the diet.
If you are on a diet that is low-calorie, low-carb, or has too many bad carbs, your brain will not work at the optimum level. Did you know that Resting Metabolic Rate of the Human Brain 1,300 kcal over 24 hours = 54.16 kcal per hour.
My tip: Eat regularly, and don’t skip meals.
You might not feel hungry but without the intake of regular healthy meals (every 4 hours, of the right size) your brain begins to starve. You need good, wholesome carbs – meaning those from natural foods, with minimal processing so the vital nutrients for optimal body’s functioning are not removed. Want to know more what to eat, see the article from Harvard School of Public Health on the carbs.
Remember: Feed your brain and avoid hunger
When a person is anxious or stressed, the brain switches off its prefrontal cortex. Then the limbic brain – the mammalian brain – very easily triggers the ‘fight or flight response’.
When the brain (limbic system) is aroused, strongly excited or anxious, it becomes harder to process the world, to make smart decisions, and to reach creative insights – Dr. David Rock.
My tip: Investigate some mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is the most researched and proven solution for stress management. The research shows that mindfulness may change brain and immune function in positive ways.
Remember: Only 5 – 10 minutes practice a day will make a difference to minimise stress and anxiety.
We all know that we behave and feel differently when we tired. Why? There are many reasons, but one of them is the “non availability ” of the PFC. It doesn’t function effectively when we are exhausted.
My tip: Do not make major decisions or take responsibilities late in the evening, or if you are tired.
I sometimes fail to apply this rule to myself (I am only a human). A recent example being, I was offered an exciting opportunity to present a Saturday evening seminar. After a long week, that meant another thing on my list to do – an evening presentation! I paid the price – absolute disappointment in my own work.
Remember: Your PFC works best for you in the morning, especially after a restful night’s sleep. After a long and tiring day save the evening for a good comedy movie, and avoid extreme tiredness.
Take off the H.A.T.
Eat well, take a deep, calming breath, and have a restorative sleep.
And do remember to wear your real HAT when it’s hot outside.
Stay well! Gitana