Your Brain at Work

David Rock

The trouble is, when it comes to making decisions and solving problems, as Emily is trying to do this morning, the brain has some surprising performance limitations.

These five functions, understanding, deciding, recalling, memorizing, and inhibiting, make up the majority of conscious thought. These functions are recombined to plan, problem-solve, communicate, and other tasks.

The other option could be to send your assistant out for some glucose powder or today’s ready-made solution: a cola drink.

If Emily knew how energy-hungry her stage was, she would start her Monday morning differently. The big difference is she would prioritize prioritizing. She would prioritize first, before any other attention-rich activity such as emailing.

Picturing something you have not yet seen is going to take a lot of energy and effort. This partly explains why people spend more time thinking about problems (things they have seen) than solutions

Daniel Gilbert’s 2006 book, Stumbling on Happiness, dives deeply into the implications of this finding, illustrating how human beings are terrible at estimating emotions in the future,

Another reason visuals are so helpful is that the brain has a long history of creating mental imagery involving objects and people interacting. Visual processes evolved over millions of years, so the machinery is highly efficient, especially in comparison to the circuitry involved in language.

One technique is to break work up into blocks of time based on type of brain use, rather than topic. For example, if you have to do some creative writing in several different projects, which requires a clear, fresh mind, you might do all your creative writing on a Monday.

Schedule the most attention-rich tasks when you have a fresh and alert mind.

It gets worse. A study by Brian McElree at New York University found that the number of chunks of information you can remember accurately with no memory degradation is, remarkably, only one.

When you think, you picture how a concept connects in space with other concepts. (Working memory is always either visuospatial or auditory, and the former is much more efficient.)

Imagine you were trying to rethink your life priorities. You could create chunks for “work,” “family,” “health,” and “creativity.” It would be far easier to make life changes by reordering these chunks, than by trying to understand and rethink your entire life history and future plans,

The brain naturally wants to chunk anytime you hit the limits of what can be held on the stage. It’s something you do without noticing.

We all often think about what’s easy to think about, rather than what’s right to think about.

When trying to make a decision between items, the optimal number of items to compare is two.

The lesson is clear: if accuracy is important, don’t divide your attention.

continuous partial attention in 1998. It’s what happens when people’s focus is split, continuously. The effect is constant and intense mental exhaustion.

A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis.

How do you address issues in a queue? Perhaps a decision higher up needs to be made. If you are decorating a house and can’t decide what color to paint the walls, you are probably missing a higher-up decision about the overall color scheme you want.

There seems to be a most efficient way, a path of least resistance, to thinking tasks. Taking time to work out the right order to make decisions can save a lot of effort and energy overall, reducing unresolved issues in your queue.

Catch yourself trying to do two things at once and slow down instead.

Embed repetitive tasks where you can.

There simply might not be enough glucose available for intensive thinking, so you keep losing your train of thought.

You might be trying to hold too much information in mind, more than four concepts at once, and so you keep losing items.

Yet there is a system used for all types of braking, the VLPFC (while other brain regions are involved in braking as well, the VLPFC appears to be central). Your ability to use this braking system well seems to correlate closely to how well you can focus.

Our braking system is part of the most fragile, temperamental, and energy-hungry region of the brain. Because of this, your braking system works at its best only every now and then. If cars were built like this, you’d never survive your first drive to the store.

Each time you stop yourself from doing something, the next impulse is harder to stop.

half a second before a “voluntary” movement, the brain sends a signal called an action potential, which relates to a movement about to occur. This action potential occurs a long time, in neuroscience terms, before any conscious awareness of the desire to move the finger. The brain decides “I will move my finger now” about 0.3 seconds before you are aware of it.

It seems that you may not have much free will, but you do have “free won’t” (a term coined by Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz), which is the ability to avoid urges. However, you have only a small window in which to inhibit a response. And, of course, if your stage is too full, you may not have the space to hold the concept of inhibition there.

To stop getting out of your chair once you start will take more veto power and more effort, than to decide not to get up when you first have the urge. To avoid distractions, it’s helpful to get into the habit of vetoing behaviors early, quickly, and often, well before they take over.

When you develop language that describes an activity, at least in this experiment, it’s more likely that you can catch yourself about to do something before taking the action. Having explicit language gives you more veto power. When you have words for a pattern, which means the prefrontal cortex is involved, a lot more is possible in relation to that pattern.

If you have language for the way your mental stage gets tired, you will catch this exhaustion as it happens. If you have language to describe the feeling of having too much on your stage at once, you will be more likely to notice it.

It pays to know a lot about how your brain works, so you can catch your brain while you try to work.

Speaking about ideas activates more circuits than merely thinking about those same ideas, which makes it easier to stay focused: the network is more robust.

He turns on his computer and creates and prints out a basic plan, which will make him look more organized.

When we get distracted it’s often a result of thinking about ourselves, which activates the default network in the brain.

Distractions exhaust the prefrontal cortex’s limited resources.

Being “always on” (connected to others via technology) can drop your IQ significantly, as much as losing a night’s sleep.

Inhibition requires catching an impulse when it first emerges, before the momentum of an action takes over.

Having explicit language for mental patterns gives you a greater ability to stop patterns emerging early on, before they take over.

Reduce the likelihood of internal distractions by clearing your mind before embarking on difficult tasks.

Improve your mental braking system by practicing any type of braking, including physical acts.

the inverted U. They found that performance was poor at low levels of stress, hit a sweet spot at reasonable levels of stress, and tapered off under high stress.

It takes a certain amount of stress just to get out of bed in the morning. This type of stress is known as eustress, or positive stress. Positive stress helps focus your attention.

Arnsten discovered that whether a synapse in the prefrontal cortex fires correctly depends on having just the right levels of two neurochemicals present. These chemicals are dopamine and norepinephrine. Without enough of these two chemicals, you experience boredom, under-arousal. Too much, and you experience stress, over-arousal.

you can also shift your own chemical states through various mental techniques, without risking your life or needing to take a vacation. These techniques can help you either decrease or increase levels of alertness or interest, or both.

One strategy, perhaps the easiest and quickest, is to increase adrenaline levels by bringing “urgency” to a task. Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is the brain equivalent of the adrenaline most people feel before public speaking. It’s the chemistry of fear.

One study found that picturing yourself doing a finger exercise increased muscle mass by 22 percent, which was close to the 30 percent achieved by doing the exercise for real.

If your alertness is too low, you can generate adrenaline by imagining something going wrong in the future, literally visualizing a scary event.

A professional boxer once explained to me the secret of his success. He used to imagine that going into the ring could kill him, which would make him train like a maniac.

If I can’t focus, I imagine handing in a piece of work and other people finding mistakes in it.

norepinephrine is the chemistry of alertness, dopamine is the chemistry of interest.

Watching funny film clips or telling jokes increases dopamine

Paul could improve his focus by changing simple aspects of how he works. Just changing the height of his chair could be enough of a fresh perspective to release more dopamine. Or he could speak out loud about his project to someone, allowing him to get a novel perspective again.

Scientists have also found that expecting a positive event, anything the brain perceives as a reward, generates dopamine. Rewards to the brain include food, sex, money, and positive social interactions.

When you can’t seem to think, writing ideas down to get them “out of your head” can help. If your stage doesn’t have to hold this information, there is less activity overall.

One study showed that new lovers’ brains have a lot in common with people on cocaine. Dopamine is sometimes called the “drug of desire.” Too much dopamine, from being “high with excitement,” can also be exhausting.

The client had sent him the brief four days ago, but at the time Paul felt he couldn’t focus on it, that things weren’t “urgent” enough. Arnsten explains this generally masculine phenomenon: “Estrogen promotes the stress response. This is now me describing the story of my lab—the women get everything done a week ahead of time, as they don’t want the pressure, the increased arousal, of the deadline. The men wait till the last minute so they have enough dopamine and norepinephrine to actually push them to finish.”

the founder of the positive psychology field, thinks the flow state is one of the three main drivers of human happiness, more important than hedonic happiness, the joy we get from a good meal or fine wine.

Practice being aware of your levels of alertness and interest throughout the day.

Bring your adrenaline level up when needed with a small dose of visualizing a mild fear. Bring your dopamine level up when needed, using novelty in any form, including changing perspective, humor, or expecting something positive. Bring your dopamine or adrenaline level down by activating other regions of the brain other than the prefrontal

Emily knows her own mind enough to see that a few minutes of an empty stage can generate more ideas than a longer time with distractions.

Emily is discovering another surprising finding about the prefrontal cortex. Sometimes the prefrontal cortex itself is the problem. This is especially the case in creative situations.

According to Professor Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, more than 50 percent of workers today do creative work.

Beeman is also the kind of person whose high energy requires that you have a strong cup of Java before meeting him just so you can keep up with the conversation.

Beeman finds that about 40 percent of the time people solve his problems logically, trying one idea after another until something clicks. The other 60 percent of the time an insight experience occurs.

This knowledge about insights provides a possible strategy for increasing creativity: let your subconscious brain solve the problem.

funny as this sounds, it’s what the research shows is needed when you get stuck at an impasse. The wrong answers are stopping the right ones from emerging.

This seems to work even at the level of a few moments. Try an experiment: next time you’re working on a crossword or other word game, when you get stuck, do something totally different for a few seconds (anything as simple as tying your shoes or stretching; the main thing is not to think about the problem). Then come back to the problem and see what happens.

(I talk about this idea further in a framework called the “clarity of distance” in my book Quiet Leadership.)

Beeman has found that people having insights experience an intriguing brain signal just before the insight occurs. The brain in some regions goes quiet, like a car going into idle.

Kind of like saying, ‘Shut up. I am thinking about something.’” You do this all the time, probably without noticing. You are talking to someone. Then, just for a moment, you avert your eyes, perhaps by looking up, to be less distracted. It’s the brain’s way of shutting down inputs to focus on subtle internal signals. If you don’t do this, insight is unlikely to occur.

Beeman has also found a strong correlation between emotional states and insight. Increasing happiness increases the likelihood of insight, while increasing anxiety decreases the likelihood of insight.

Here’s what Beeman found. People who have more insights don’t have better vision, they are not more determined to find a solution, they don’t focus harder on the problem, and they are not necessarily geniuses. The “insight machines,” those whom Beeman can pick based on brain scans before an experiment, are those who have more awareness of their internal experience. They can observe their own thinking, and thus can change how they think. These people have better cognitive control and thus can access a quieter mind on demand.

A good way to simplify a problem is to describe it in as few words as possible. Saying to yourself, “I want more energy,” creates a fair bit less activation in the brain than saying, “I want more energy to focus more on my work and family and make time for exercise and fun.”

At the moment of insight, there is a burst of gamma band brain waves. These are the fastest brain waves, representing a group of neurons firing in unison, forty times a second.

neurochemical cocktail

an insight heightens the chemistry needed for more insights,

It’s astonishingly easy to get stuck on the same small set of solutions to a problem, called the impasse phenomenon.

Resolving an impasse requires letting the brain idle, reducing activation of the wrong answers.

Insights occur more frequently the more relaxed and happy you are.

Some Things to Try When You Hit a Mental Wall Take the pressure off yourself, get an extension on your deadline, do something fun, reduce your anxiety any way you can.

Try quieting your mind and see what is there in the more subtle connections.

With the prevalence of this idea, one of two things is happening here. Perhaps authors are all terrible plagiarists. Or maybe there is something important, universal, and therefore biological about being able to step outside and observe your moment-to-moment experience.

In each case you are noticing inner signals. The ability to notice these kinds of signals is a central platform for being more effective at work.

Knowledge of your brain is one thing, but you also need to be aware of what your brain is doing at any moment for any knowledge to be useful.

mindfulness training.

You don’t see as much (or hear as much, or feel as much, or sense anything as much) when you are lost in thought. Sadly, even a beer doesn’t taste as good in this state.

Let’s recap. You can experience the world through your narrative circuitry, which will be useful for planning, goal-setting, and strategizing. You can also experience the world more directly, which enables more sensory information to be perceived. Experiencing the world through the direct-experience network allows you to get closer to the reality of any event.

Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.”

Building your director doesn’t mean you have to sit still and watch your breath. You can find a way that suits your lifestyle. My wife and I built a ten-second ritual into the evening meal with our kids that involves stopping and noticing three small breaths together before we eat. The added bonus is it makes a great dinner taste even better.

Even the strongest toward emotion, lust, is unlikely to make you run, whereas fear can do so in an instant. (Just put a plastic spider on someone’s hand to observe this trait.)

Human beings walk toward, but run away.

Yet when the limbic system gets aroused, it becomes significantly harder to find your director. Ask someone in a meeting the question “Why do you think this way?” and they will generally have to pause and think hard to answer. It takes a lot of resources to think about thinking.

The third problem with limbic system arousal is that you become more likely to respond negatively to situations. You look at the downside, and you take fewer risks.

To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system.

Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.

Mindful Attention Awareness Scale.

Paul has a strong director, capable of observing his own thought processes in real time. He knows that a fraction of a second of focus on this past problem could generate runaway emotions, and that focusing on his senses can bring the narrative circuitry back in check.

“How well are you set up for this kind of project?” Jill asks. He notices himself feeling defensive, but settles his emotions again by quietly recognizing the defensiveness.

Suppressing an emotion makes other people feel uncomfortable.

A study of British civil servants found that low-level, nonsmoking employees had more health problems than senior executives. This doesn’t make sense intuitively, as senior executives are known to be under a lot of stress. It appears that the perception of choice may be more important than diet and other factors for health. Choosing in some way to experience stress is less stressful than experiencing stress without a sense of choice or control.

When a child won’t go to bed, you might reduce her resistance by giving her back a choice. She can choose whether she is read a book or told a story. This choice can have a big impact. It’s the “perception” of choice that matters to the brain.

I might decide to let go of my frustration and focus on relaxing while I drive, knowing I want to write later that night, which won’t happen if I am exhausted from feeing grumpy.

I decide to be responsible for my mental state instead of a victim of circumstances. In the instant that I make this decision, I start seeing more information around me, and I can perceive opportunities for feeling happier,

The best way to manage your expectations (without any side effects) is to start to pay attention to them, which means activating your director.

He pushes aside the urge to get excited about the project, deciding not to give the thought any attention. He was just about to call a few of his suppliers to share the good news, but decided this might not be a good idea, in case expectations are not met.

Speaking aloud about complex ideas can be a way of seeing your own thinking more clearly.

Practice setting expectations a little lower.

Mirror neurons explain why leaders need to be extra conscious of managing their stress levels, as their emotions really do impact others.

Oxytocin is released when two people dance together, play music together, or engage in a collaborative conversation. It’s the neurochemistry of safe connectivity.

In a paper published in Nature in June 2005, a group of scientists found that giving people a spray containing oxytocin increased their level of trust.

Our animal instincts seem to naturally cause us to withdraw and treat others as foes, unless a situation arises that generates oxytocin. This phenomenon makes sense: it explains why facilitators and trainers insist on “icebreakers” at the start of workshops, and why “establish rapport” is the first step in any counseling, customer service, or sales training manual.

Research within the positive psychology field shows there is only one experience in life that increases happiness over a long time.

The one thing that makes people happy is the quality and quantity of their social connections.

Loneliness, the study showed, could significantly increase the risk of death from stroke and heart disease.

Having friends helps you change your brain, because you get to speak out loud more often. One experiment showed that when people repeated out loud what they were learning, the speed of their learning and their ability to apply that learning to other situations increased.

She notices it’s taking longer now to bring an idea from the audience onto her stage than it did a few hours ago. She tries to find a word for her state of mind, and comes up with frazzled. Naming her state calms her down a little, but she also notices there’s still something bugging her that she can’t quite name. Emily knows how delicate social situations can be, especially when people meet others for the first time. She pauses to pay attention to the issue bugging her, the impasse.

You need to work hard at creating connections to create good collaboration.

Anytime you meet someone new, make an effort to connect on a human level as early as possible to reduce the threat response.

Become friends with people you work with by sharing personal experiences.

Paul doesn’t know that fairness is a primary need for the brain.

As an added bonus here, a study has shown that giving to others activates a greater reward response than receiving gifts of similar value. So sharing your time or resources or donating money might help you not only sense greater fairness but also feel better than you would receiving a gift yourself.

It seems that the better you can regulate your emotions, the better you can accept an unfair offer.”

“Punishment to unfair people is an important pressure that helps support fair economic transactions,”

On the flip side of this, if you perceive an injustice that you think should be righted, you could choose to allow yourself to feel a sense of unfairness. Choosing to be driven by these emotions may help you push past fears inherent in taking action to right a wrong. Just remember that strong limbic arousal is good for physical activity but reduces creative thinking.

Men don’t experience empathy with someone who is in pain who has been unfair, whereas women do.

If you have ever been in a relationship in which one partner starts earning more money than the other for the first time, you have perceived these wide-scale changes in brain circuitry take place, which can bring some interesting challenges.

The intensity of Colin’s reaction took Emily by surprise. She had no idea he felt a status threat in the first place.

Because of the intensity of the status-drop experience, many people go to great lengths to avoid situations that could put their status at risk. This aversion includes staying away from any activity they are not confident in, which, because of the brain’s relationship to novelty, can mean avoiding anything new.

If he had stopped to think about the situation, he might have recognized that you can’t say on the phone what you might say in person. The threat response from a perceived drop in

If he had stopped to think about the situation, he might have recognized that you can’t say on the phone what you might say in person.

People don’t like to be wrong because being wrong drops your status, in a way that feels dangerous and unnerving.

Testosterone levels go up, too. Testosterone helps people focus, makes them feel strong and confident, and even improves sex drive.

This means that a feeling of high status helps you process more information, including more subtle ideas, with less effort, than a feeling of lower status.

Thinking about yourself and about others uses the same circuits. You can harness the power of the thrill of “beating the other guy” by making that other guy (or girl) you, without hurting anyone in the process.

here’s a really big idea: one way you might play against yourself could be to work on improving your capacity to catch your brain in action. You could practice getting faster at things such as labeling and reappraising, reading other people’s states, or developing a quiet mind when needed.

It’s a way of developing language for experiences that may be otherwise unconscious, so that you can catch these experiences occurring in real time.

Surprises About the Brain Status is a significant driver of behavior at work and across life experiences.

Just speaking to your boss or a person of higher status generally activates a status threat.

Reduce status threats in others by giving people positive feedback.

“Here’s the thing, Eric…” Paul pauses, thinking about how he can best give Eric some feedback. He remembers something from a book about a “feedback sandwich,” and tries starting with a positive item, softening the feedback a little.

After giving up on providing feedback, Paul is taking a logical approach to helping someone else solve a problem. He tries to understand the source of Eric’s problem, and then makes suggestions. I call this approach the default approach to helping people. What Paul doesn’t realize is that this default approach is inefficient for solving human problems, and even has some undesirable side effects.

Paul’s first attempt to help Eric involved a “polite” approach to giving feedback: he said something nice, then attacked Eric’s status, and then said something nice again. To me this is like an “arsenic sandwich”: the bread might make the meal appear more palatable, but it’s still going to kill you.

This is one of the traps of problem-solving: solving any problem creates a little rush of dopamine, which drags you farther into the story. The key is to make sure you solve the right problem, which means the most useful problem, not just the most interesting one.

The more negative connections you make, the less dopamine you have, the fewer resources you have for solving the next problem, and the more negative connections you make. And on it goes. In this low-energy state, everything looks hard. Increasingly risk averse, you don’t have the motivation to take action. Eventually, all you feel like doing is taking a nap.

The difference between the two taxi scenarios is based on one key decision: to focus on the desired outcome (getting a taxi) rather than on the past. Attention went to your goal, rather than to your problem.


Insights require a quiet brain, meaning there is an overall low level of electrical activity, which helps people notice subtle internal signals.

If you stop and think more deeply here, do you think you know what you need to do to resolve this? What quiet hunches do you have about a solution, deeper inside? How close to a solution are you? Which pathway to a solution would be best to follow here?

I give many more examples and background to this approach in my last book, Quiet Leadership, but the principle is simple: Help the other person notice the subtle, high-level connections in his own thinking, which will make insight more likely.

For Paul to take this new approach, he will have to activate his director to inhibit his attention going into the problem or straight to giving out a solution. If you don’t practice vetoing your desire to solve other people’s problems, your default approach, it’s easy to waste time in unnecessary discussions driven by people protecting their status. When your objective is helping other people be effective, sometimes to move fastest you have to put on your own brakes.

This probably also explains why the act of writing itself is easier when you leave a gap between writing and editing: you’ve forgotten it’s you who wrote the words. You can see your sloppy sentences with the eyes of a stranger, someone with no agenda to protect poor quality.

Instead of thinking about people’s problems and giving feedback or making suggestions, change can be facilitated faster in many instances if you think about people’s thinking, and help others think about their own thinking better.

Giving feedback often creates an intense threat response that doesn’t help people improve performance.

Find ways to make it valuable for people to give themselves feedback; reward them for activating their director.

At rest, the brain is noisy and chaotic, like an orchestra warming up, a cacophony of sound. When you pay close attention to something, it’s like bringing the orchestra together to play a piece of music.

When different circuits fire synchronously, you invoke Hebb’s Law, which says that “Cells that fire together, wire together.”

Studies of stroke patients have since shown that regaining the use of an arm requires focusing attention closely on rehabilitation activities, not just doing movements.

It seems that attention can quickly change the brain, if enough attention is paid to stimuli. It’s just that attention doesn’t tend to go easily to one place and stay there. Learning a new language, for example, is relatively easy; it’s just that you have to stop paying attention to your current language to create the new circuits. That’s why moving to France is the fastest way of learning to speak French—your attention is forced there all day long.

When you change your attention you are, according to Schwartz, facilitating “self-directed neuroplasticity.” You are rewiring your own brain.

However, external rewards such as holidays or money have limited use. You can’t just keep offering these to motivate people, because if people expect this reward it tends to become less valuable, and a reward isn’t so rewarding unless it gets bigger each time, which isn’t sustainable.

In a paper mentioned earlier in this book, called “The Neuroscience of Goal Pursuit,” Matt Lieberman and Elliot Berkman

If you have a specific task you want someone to do, you might say, “Would you be willing to do this?” rather than “I want you to do this.” This simple change takes into account a sense of autonomy.

Great leaders provide clear expectations and talk a lot about the future, helping to increase certainty. Great leaders let others take charge and make decisions, increasing autonomy. Great leaders often have a strong presence, which comes from working hard to be authentic and real with other people, to create a sense of relatedness. And great leaders keep their promises, taking care to be perceived as fair.

An effective and more direct way to focus attention is simply to ask people the right question, to give them a gap to close. The brain is quite happy closing any gap, as long as it doesn’t take too much effort.

Going back to the retail store, useful questions a manager could ask his team might include: What is one thing you have done that has made a customer delighted in the past? What did you do differently that made the customer so happy? What would it take for you to do this more often?

When you set a goal, you set up the possibility of a positive (or negative) spiral. Looking out for your goal, you are more likely to perceive information relating to it, which makes you feel positive, because you feel that the goal is going to happen, which makes you look out for it more, and perceive more information, and so on.

The goal Emily tried to set with her family was an away goal: “not to fight.” When you set an away goal, you can end up paying attention to the negative emotions instead of making new connections. Lose weight, stop smoking, don’t drink: most of the New Year’s resolutions of the world are away goals.

Thus, when you set goals for other people, not only do you reduce the sense of autonomy, but it’s all too easy to think that others are just like you. (To think otherwise takes a lot of space on the stage, and generates uncertainty.) The lesson here: if you are planning on setting goals for other people, perhaps instead create a framework for them to set goals for themselves.

Attention changes the brain, but the brain pays attention to a lot of things. Real change requires repetition.

When you make a promise to another person to do something, it comes into your mind more often, because of a status threat if you don’t do it. The result is the circuits relating to your promise get more attention density, so you are more likely to remember the task. If you write a task down, you are paying far more attention to it than speaking about the task, so again you have increased the attention density.

Emily decides she does want to have a family conversation about how they are getting on, but not to mention it until dinner, when a burst of extra glucose might improve her chances.

It’s been a tough day. Emily needs a “little something” to lift her dopamine level until dinner. She decides against a glass of wine, which would only reduce her ability to manage her emotions at dinner, and she phones her mother instead.

Small steps are the best way forward.

In act 1, you discovered that being able to plan, organize, prioritize, create, or do just about anything except repetitive mental tasks requires using a small, fragile, and energy-hungry brain region, the prefrontal cortex. You discovered the underpinning biology that explains why it’s so hard to be in a zone of peak performance and how easily distracted the brain is. You also learned that sometimes the prefrontal cortex is the problem, and you need the ability to shut it down if you want to be more creative.

Remember that exercises for building your director can be as simple as a few moments of focused attention just before a meal. Repetition is key.