10 Quick Tips to Boost Productivity During Brain Awareness Week

Here are 10 tips to boost productivity during Brain Awareness Week

When it comes to productivity, your brain is your best ally—but are you ignoring the most important signals it’s sending?

Considering this week is Brain Awareness Week, now’s a good time to start paying attention to your mental energy and learning how to manage it to boost your productivity.

After all, it’s hard to be productive when your mental reserves are tapped, and today’s energy-draining environment is fighting you at every step. The typical response to declining energy and productivity levels is to try time management techniques so that you can catch up and stay on top of your workload. But most of those techniques are destined to fail when your energy level falls through the floor.

Increase productivity for Brain Awareness Week in less than 38 hours a day

Instead of thinking of productivity as a time management challenge, try viewing it as an energy management issue. Because while you can’t recover time—those wasted hours are gone forever—you can recover energy.

And here’s where your brain comes into the equation.

We often let this phenomenon of energy gain and drain happen by accident, but your own mental processes play a huge role in your energy throughout the day—at work, at home and with every person you meet. In fact, your energy levels have a lot more to do with what happens inside your head than what happens outside. Becoming conscious and intentional about this aspect of your life can unlock new levels of productivity. The key is to manage your mental filters, not your time. Read more

5 Reasons to Laugh at Stress (and Why Your Brain Will Thank You)

Let’s face it. If you’re like most people today, you’re stressed. From the intensity of the business environment to unpredictable, constantly changing world events to the fast-approaching holiday season, there are plenty of reasons to feel the pressure—to buckle down and get serious.

It’s also a good time to answer the age-old question, What do you call a bee who’s having a bad hair day?

A Frisbee.

That’s right. It’s a good time to laugh (even if you’re somewhat annoyed at yourself for laughing at a particularly dumb joke).

From a thinking standpoint, laughter can be an instant antidote to ambiguity and tension because it shifts your mindset. It’s a “pattern interrupt” for your brain—a way to hit the pause button on habitual negative thinking.

Here are five more reasons you should take the time to laugh:

  1. You need to remember something: The stress-busting properties of laughter have been shown to shift brain wave activity toward the “gamma frequency,” which could help improve memory and recall.
  2. You need others to remember something: When it’s funny, it’s memorable. Humor makes ideas “sticky” because people remember what they find funny. That’s why we like to incorporate cartoons, funny videos and images into our presentations.
  3. You need to exercise your mental muscles: Research shows that working through jokes can be a kind of mental workout, enhancing your ability to learn. Anything that requires you to stop for a minute and get conscious about your thinking is great for your mental agility. Even better when it has the added mood-enhancing benefits of laughter.
  4. You need the team to collaborate through conflict. Just as sharing laughter and a good joke will help you strengthen your connections with others, humor is a good way to relieve tension, take away the potentially threatening edge of certain information or conflicting opinions, and put people in a more positive frame of mind so they can stay focused on the task at hand.
  5.  You need some mental distance. Humor promotes resilience. When you laugh, you gain a sense of detachment and control that allows you to remain resilient, even when things are going rough.

This list is truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of this simple, free and readily available strategy for reducing stress while working out your brain.

So the next time someone asks, “What’s smarter than a talking dog?” You’ll know the answer.

(A spelling bee, of course.)

Lighten up! Your brain will thank you!

Don’t Fall Back on Mental Habits

For those of us who observe Daylight Savings Time, this Sunday we’ll “fall back” by setting our clocks back an hour, and that extra hour of sleep will be good news for our brains. A growing body of research is finding that sleep enhances the brain’s ability to process and retain information and memories, unravel complex issues to make better decisions, and make connections that allow us to get more creative, among other learning and performance-improving activities.

But our brains also love their routines. Just try to change someone’s mind (even your own), and you’ll see how firmly engrained those routines are.

In fact, our brains naturally seek and organize around patterns we’ve developed in our thinking throughout the course of our lives. We develop mental habits based on what has always worked for us—and it feels safe.

But when you approach a new situation with your habitual thinking, you severely limit your ability to generate new ideas or solutions. If your thought patterns continue to be processed by your brain using the same neural pathways as in the past, you won’t be able to effectively lead and respond in different ways.

Think about that for a moment: Do you need to do things differently today? Find new solutions or inspiration? Adapt to a changing world? It’s a good bet that you do.

So whether you or your employees want to increase creative output, find new perspectives on how to handle day-to-day issues, or simply lead and manage in new ways, you can’t do it successfully until you break those existing patterns.

Of course, you’ll first need to know what those patterns are. The HBDI® assessment, which measures degrees of preference for different modes of thinking, is a great way to help people understand their thinking patterns and the impact of these patterns on how they communicate, learn, solve problems and more.

Once that baseline is understood, here’s a four-step process anyone can take to break out of their mental defaults:

  1. Visualize it: Because we know what to expect when we do the things we’ve always done, our mental habits feel safe. By visualizing something from a different perspective, we can get more comfortable with it. Here’s an easy exercise to try: Imagine your living room. Now imagine it from the perspective of a burglar. What do you see? How about as an interior decorator? The brain doesn’t necessarily know the difference between visualization and reality, so this is a great way to “try on” different perspectives and make them become reality.
  2. Define your goal: What is it you want? What’s the end game? Write it down and post it in a place you will see every single day. We need that constant reinforcement to remind us why we’re doing it and to keep it top of mind. Otherwise it’s too easy to fall back into the comfort zone of our patterns and preferences.
  3. Use the buddy system: There’s a reason why support groups are so effective for issues like weight loss or dealing with addiction: We’re social beings, and buddy systems actually work. Think about who can help you stay accountable as well as those who could provide some of the alternate perspectives you’re looking for. Maybe it’s a co-worker, someone in your personal life or even an online group.
  4. Make a plan: Give yourself the gift of setting milestones. That way you can celebrate some of the changes you’ve made and figure out where you’re succeeding, where you’re struggling and how to go from there. It’s going to take some time to overcome a natural mindset you’ve probably spent years and years developing and reinforcing.

Change keeps coming. If you keep falling back on your mental habits, you’re going to fall behind.

Don’t just change your clocks this Sunday. Start changing your mindset!

It’s Brain Awareness Week!

March 10th through the 16th is Brain Awareness Week (BAW), the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. You can find plenty of activities and resources on brain-related topics on the official BAW website.

For quick tour of the brain’s four thinking preferences, click on the image below and watch as Ann Herrmann-Nehdi explains how you can apply what we know about thinking and the brain to be more effective at work.



Recent News on Thinking and the Brain







Some food for thought from the world of thinking this month:

  • Get visual to improve your memory. Work with your brain’s natural set-up so you won’t forget those hard-to-remember things.
  • Men’s and women’s brains are wired differently. This latest study found that male brains have more connections within hemispheres to optimize motor skills, whereas female brains are more connected between hemispheres to combine analytical and intuitive thinking. This is a topic we’ve also been exploring over the years. Read more about how you can leverage the differences in male and female brains.

Go here, to find more news in this month’s BrainBytes® Newsletter.

Brain Dominance and Your Cell Phone

Does brain dominance affect which hand you use to hold your cell phone? That’s the conclusion of a recent research study, the findings of which were published in May 2013 issue of JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

The study is based on an email survey that was completed by 717 people. It found a strong correlation between a person’s brain dominance and the ear they use to listen to their cell phone: If you hold your phone to your right ear, the study purported, you’re more likely to be left-brain dominant, and vice versa. The study’s authors believe the findings may help us better map the language centers of the brain.

I was surprised by the somewhat oversimplified conclusions, and in fact, our HBDI® data shows this is not an accurate assumption. A comment in the USA Today article by Susan Bookheimer, director of the Staglin Imaging Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at UCLA, about the relationship between handedness and brain dominance is very apt:

Because a fairly equal proportion of right-handers in the study hold their phone with their right hand, and left-handers use their left hand, “The logical conclusion should be that individuals are more likely to hold the phone in their dominant hand than in their non-dominant hand.”

Hand dominance is the primary factor and likely the first explanation of how we use our phone and which ear we use. As to the correlation between hand dominance and brain dominance, the brain is structured in such a way that our handedness is correlated with language center processing: Our ears are split with a bias to the opposite ear. So that means we are using the ear that aligns most of the time. I think a study of ear switching would be fascinating. Are we adjusting to better listen to the loving words in our left ear?

Also missing from this study is the handwriting connection. Handwriting, including the way you hold a pencil, is also related to language processing and has an impact on how we process information — and in an era in which kids no longer learn to write because they are typing and using voice recognition, that impact is decreasing over time. How will our brains process differently?

Only time and more research will tell. In the meantime, the next time you are suffering through a conversation, try switching ears — it just might make a difference!

Is A Survival Mentality Holding Your Business Back? Free Chapter Download

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For the past few years we’ve heard a lot about what businesses need to do to survive through the recession and survive in the new economic environment we’ve entered. 

No question, these strategies have been helpful and important. But it’s equally important to remember that, although operating in survival mode can keep heads above water, it’s only a short-term solution. And this short-term mentality impacts companies even when it’s not related to tough economic conditions.

Businesses focused on making the leap to the next stage of growth often find themselves in a similar situation. The very mentality that helped them get where they are may be keeping them from getting where they want to go.

Brain research has shown that the kind of thinking that’s essential for short-term survival actually hinders long-term growth and development. In an unpublished chapter originally written for The Whole Brain® Business Book, Ned Herrmann, founder of Herrmann International, addressed this topic as it relates specifically to the dilemma that many businesses face as they attempt to move from infancy to maturity.

In “Short-Term/Long-Term Leadership: Survival of the Fittest,” he notes that, in terms of the Whole Brain® Model, companies often start with an emphasis on D-quadrant thinking about the future and possibilities. But pressing business realities quickly intervene, and cash flow becomes the immediate concern. Leaders discover they must shift to left-mode, A- and B-quadrant thinking to deliver products and services and generate cash quickly.

In short, they suppress entrepreneurial thinking in favor of operational action.

While this approach makes sense for a business in its infancy, it often perpetuates itself long after because left-mode thinking becomes part of the management culture.

The same thinking that kept the business alive up to this point now threatens to kill it.

For the business to thrive, Ned explains, leaders have to become more agile in their thinking and to be able to apply situational Whole Brain® leadership thinking.

You can download the full chapter here: Short-Term/Long-Term Leadership: Survival of the Fittest


The Four Things You Need to Know about The Neurobiology of Leadership Assessments

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For more learning and insights on thinking, mindsets and brain science, check out my full video report from the 2011 Neuroleadership Summit.

In our presentation on the Neurobiology of Leadership Assessments at the Neuroleadership Summit last week, Mark Schar from Stanford and I concluded that in this early stage of this field of research, there are four points we have to pay attention to.

We need to define leadership:  The clarity of the research on this is cloudy at best. It seems obvious that if we want to assess leadership, we need to have some clear definition of what it is and what we are trying to measure.  

Two differing perspectives can be found in the business and academic worlds. Business tends to look at leadership as a vital key to organization success, often citing guru CEOs like Jack Welch: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”  

Academia however, is much more skeptical, perceiving leadership as poorly defined, difficult to measure and situational, better represented by a Casey Stengel quote: “The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate me away from those who are still undecided.”

Defining what it is and what we intend to measure is critical the evaluation of a leadership assessment. In a pilot study we conducted for the session, it was clear the assessments known and most used by business were not the same as those known and used by the academic community. Their reasons for using assessments are also different: Business uses them to make better decisions; academia is typically looking to make a discovery.

We learn about leadership from assessments: Be clear on what YOU want to learn. The hundreds of thousands of assessments processed each year would seem to indicate that we are learning something. Our pilot study showed that those in business had a range of application arenas, as shown below.

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Whatever the application, one helpful way to differentiate between assessments is to look at the construct each instrument is based on. The 16 assessments in our pilot study were equally divided between these four construct clusters:

Personality: Individual, intrinsic motivation

Behavioral: Individual behaviors as perceived by others

Talent/Interest: Individual skills and interests

Cognitive: Individual preferences in processing and problem solving

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We focused on the cognitive construct to address our next question.

Neuroscience might measure leadership: What do your learners need to know and why? Did I mention this was a huge topic? Assuming we can all agree on the definition of what we are measuring as leadership, our initial scan of the research uncovered two assessments where there is a neurological research connection.

The research on the Neo Five Factor showed a relationship between brain volume and several of the factors. The research on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument’s (HBDI®) revealed neurological data that related to each of the four factors of the Whole Brain® Model. The real question then emerges: What does this tell us? How do we decide what constitutes “validity?”

We asked the audience to select what was most important for them in the selection of an assessment:

A. Statistical validity, research basis and pedigree.

B. Reliability, administration, practicality, longitudinal studies and references.

C. User’s perceived value and experience, ease of applicability and face validity.

D. Observed insights, visual appeal, discovery/aha’s and conceptual framework validity.

Our audience then split into four groups based on their answer to the above question and discussed what was most important to measure—and how that differed for business and academia. Members of each group* vehemently defended their point of view.

What is yours? How about your learners? What do they need to know and why? How does that impact your selection process?

Academia and business should converge to advance research on the neurobiology of leadership assessments. There is a great opportunity to further pursue research in this domain. We need more research! If the worlds  (you might even call them tribes) of business and academia came together we could take this research to the next level.

A special interest group emerged at the conference on this topic. Let me know if you are interested in the conversation or if would to learn more about our findings. Email me at, and post your thoughts in the comments below.

*discreetly sorted based on the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model

The Brain and Behavior

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How closely are our biology and our behavior linked?

As we learn more about the brain’s role in decision making, advances in neuroscience are leading some to question the foundations of our criminal justice system.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman examines the topic in a thought-provoking article in Atlantic Magazine, “The Brain on Trial.”

According to Eagleman, “a forward-thinking legal system informed by scientific insights into the brain will enable us to stop treating prison as a one-size-fits-all solution.”

Eagleman’s article is generating a lively discussion on the Atlantic’s website. What’s your take on the subject? Will the legal system have to change “as we become more skilled at specifying how behavior results from the microscopic details of the brain”?

March 15-21 is Brain Awareness Week

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This year marks the 15th anniversary of Brain Awareness Week (BAW), the global campaign to increase public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research.

Every March BAW, founded and coordinated by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and European Dana Alliance for the Brain, unites the efforts of universities, hospitals, patient groups, government agencies, schools, service organizations, and professional associations worldwide in a weeklong celebration of the brain. 

Remember, your brain needs exercise to stay sharp. Here’s a brain quiz to help you keep “fit!”

How will you use this week to sharpen your Whole Brain® Thinking skills and get more from the collective brainpower in your organization?