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Go Full Frontal to Be Smart

How harnessing the power of your frontal lobes maximizes your brain's potential.

Your brain has four major lobes: frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital.
Your brain is wired to conduct your most important work each day through the most intricate neural connections and across your brain’s four major lobes: frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital. But how you conquer the complexities you do relies on going full frontal.

To achieve all that you do – to think, to plan, to reason, to manage your emotions, to make decisions, and to problem solve – is a major feat of your frontal lobe. High-level thinking skills that you so often take for granted -- such as determining what home to buy, what job to pursue, what medical advice to take and what investment to make -- stem from the brainpower of your frontal lobe.

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As the central command center of your brain, your frontal lobe links information back and forth across other brain regions and has the vastest neural network and the most reciprocal interconnections with other brain structures.

New brain science reveals that the road to thinking smarter appears to lead to your brain’s intricate frontal lobe networks. However, your frontal lobe does not work in isolation; your brain regions work in concert from the cellular level to entire brain networks to achieve amazing feats each day.

The high capacity of your frontal lobe hardware and the rich opportunities to rewire its software through complex thinking set you and all humans far above all other life forms.

Your frontal lobe represents nearly a third of your entire brain and is the last region of the brain to develop and the first to decline with age. From early adolescence to young adulthood, the frontal lobes, and the intricate connections between them, are undergoing dramatic functional and structural changes that remodel the brain’s complex connectivity and advance its capacity to engage in integrated, reasoned, and high-level thinking. Sadly, brain science has shown that frontal lobe function begins to decline in our mid-forties.

How does it feel to perhaps only have two decades of prime brain health? What a depressing thought! The good news is that cognitive decline occurs because we let it; it does not have to be a fait accompli and predetermined destiny. You can strengthen the brainpower of your frontal lobe every day of your life.

Here are a few tips to maximize your frontal lobe function:

  1. Avoid automatic pilot: Thoughtful, deep and effortful processing achieved by your frontal brain regions are key ingredients to building brain health. A brain on automatic pilot is a bored brain. Keep your brain actively curious and challenge yourself to stretch your thinking every day.
  2. Decrease information exposure: Too much information freezes your brain’s dynamic frontal lobe capacity to engage in clear thinking and discerning decision-making. You and your brain get overwhelmed by too much information. Your frontal lobes need to be deployed not only to focus on important data, but even more importantly to know what information to ignore. Keep your key frontal lobe operations finely tuned by actively blocking, discarding, and ignoring less relevant tasks and information.
  3. Move beyond memory: Most individuals are concerned with loss of memory as their chief brain concern; while important, memory appears to work independently of strategic frontal lobe functions. Your strategic frontal lobes are adept at transforming information to be remembered into bigger, even original, ideas. In fact, trying to remember too many details counteracts the high efficiency of frontal lobe thinking. Take Einstein - the icon of brilliance - he constantly pointed out what a terrible memory he had, but no one would question his inventive thinking performance.

Go full frontal. Invest in your cognitive command center for ingenious thinking daily. Doing so will reap bountiful rewards for you both personally and professionally. There is no downside to thinking more strategically by harnessing your frontal lobe potential every day.

Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Director of the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas, is committed to maximizing cognitive potential across the lifespan.

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