Don't Sprain Your Brain - Next Action Associates

Have you noticed just how much your performance varies from day to day? Some days you do the work of three people as if it were nothing, and other days it is a stretch to get dressed for work.

You may have gotten used to that, but actually it is kind of a strange thing.

Your skills – some of them developed over the course of decades – clearly do not change much on a daily basis. Your ability to write, speak, add things up or play with an Excel spreadsheet does not vary hugely in a 24-hour time span. And yet our performance does.

What does vary – sometimes dramatically –  are things like mood, motivation and attitude. Oddly – given their importance to our performance – most of us are given no training on how to work constructively with that aspect of being human.

And yet in the ultra-marathon of life, working with – and not against – ourselves may be the most important things we need to master. A meta-skill if ever there was one.

In my last few blogs I’ve looked at a few different aspects of this, and as an end to a series that might be titled ‘Working with your Self’ I wanted to examine how the quality of what you let near to – or into – your brain impacts performance. Because given what we know about how our brain is influenced by what it sees and reads and absorbs, we really do need to make conscious choices about what we engage with, and what we avoid. We can’t just allow any old garbage to have too much time on our radar. Some of what swirls around us is unhelpful at best, and some of it is downright unhealthy with prolonged exposure.

As a rough guide, the content and sources might be broken down into the following categories:

  • information sources to avoid
  • information sources to cultivate
  • people to avoid
  • people to spend more time with
Information sources to avoid

Top of the list is probably easiest. What do you want to cut out? What have you noticed consistently leaves you feeling worse than when you started looking at it? Does the Daily Mail make you want to scream? The NYT? I’m all for getting a balanced view of current affairs, but how much do you need to know, really? The media’s consistent focus on repeatedly scaring us with REALLY BAD THINGS happening in places that, a.) mostly don’t affect me where I am, and b.) I can do nothing about, is just not helpful. My experience if I engage too much? A sense of powerlessness, which is not at all what I need as I set off into my day.

A big win for me in this area has come from simply stopping reading about certain topics. For instance, there are a number of world leaders (no names, but the list is lengthening over time) who I simply refuse to give any more of my brain’s ‘real-estate’ to. The more I see of them, the more I despair. That is not a helpful result, but fortunately it is one that I have a certain amount of control over. By choosing not to click on another link to find out more about their latest provocation, I spare myself unnecessary upset.

Information sources to cultivate

Sad to say, in media terms I’m stumped on what I could recommend, which serves mostly to highlight the above. I’ll fall back on books. Great books allow us to rub our minds up against those of people who’ve taken time to look long and hard at a particular topic, and to organise their thoughts in the form of a book. Not all are great books that will produce a positive impact, but the list of ones that will is long enough that you probably can’t get through it in one lifetime.

People to avoid

Who do you want to reduce contact with? Who leaves you feeling ‘less than’? Like your ideas aren’t up to much in light of their brilliance? Ever noticed that conversations with some people are almost entirely about what is wrong with the world? About what is impossible as opposed to what can be changed? If you know it makes a difference to what happens next, do you still want to keep talking with them?

People to spend more time with

Who sees more in you than you can perhaps see in yourself? Who leaves you feeling better about yourself after you’ve been with them? Wanting to be and do more than you did before you met them? Who are your cheerleaders? Check your contacts and start dialing.

All of this is a very simple way of beginning to think more critically about what in your environment feeds you, and what depletes you. If you know that your performance is in part dependent on your state, and that you have multiple levers to pull to change your state, it gives you ways to maintain performance even in difficult circumstances.

One of those levers is most definitely curating the content that you allow near your brain.


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