Sandra Bond Chapman Ph.D.

Make Your Brain Smarter

How Good Are You At Ditching Distractions?

To boost your brainpower, you must filter and focus.

Posted Mar 07, 2013

How often do you spend time devoted to one task without interruption? Do you exercise or drive your car without listening to the radio or your iPod? How many items are on your to-do list everyday and how do you prioritize what to tackle first? Depending on your answers, you may be overloading and overworking your brain.

Your brain’s frontal lobe acts as your gatekeeper – letting in certain information while blocking out the rest.

When you use your brain strategically, it filters information by deliberately sorting input and output. The approach is two-pronged:

  • Attending to necessary, essential information while
  • Filtering out extraneous data that is less critical to the task at hand.

In contrast, a nonstrategic brain takes in all information. If you work hard to attend to as much information as possible, the brain gets overwhelmed and fails to reach its maximum performance level.

You can take advantage of the vast potential of frontal lobe networks by sculpting your strategic attention habits. Follow the below Know Brainers to capitalize on your cognitive potential.

Brainpower of None

The brain solves complex problems when individuals step away to reflect on ideas and crucial decisions rather than pushing nonstop and acting without weighing choices. Trying to force insight and focus is, in actuality, counterproductive. This hyper-focused state of mind inhibits creative connections that, if unblocked, could lead to a-ha moments. Our brain never rests and is constantly working for us throughout the day and night, especially during internal trains of thought.

My advice: Schedule periods of brain downtime to quiet the mind and experience moments of insight.

Brainpower of One

The brain was not wired to multitask, and doing so diminishes mental productivity, increases stress, impairs sleep patterns and reduces overall health by altering the immune system. Unending cognitively demanding tasks rely on the brain’s central executive network (CEN). This CEN is a complex, large-scale brain network that serves our ability to keep a goal in mind, figure out the necessary steps to achieve that goal, update actions and make rapid or slow decisions as needed to best achieve the goal. Multitasking constantly disrupts the CEN circuit almost like disconnecting a computer and having to constantly reboot it. Think of the valuable time lost and brain energy wasted.

My advice: Avoid multitasking to increase brain efficiency and energy. Focus on a core task for a minimum of fifteen minutes at a time without interruptions  to better your brain’s strategic attention capacity and ability to inhibit information.

Brainpower of Two

Many of our to-do lists filled with a litany of tasks, both unimportant and important. Often, we focus on crossing the easiest and quickest tasks to accomplish instead of tackling those that require the most strategic brainpower. Most working hours are spent chasing rabbits rather than the elephants we need to tend.

My advice: When making to-do lists, focus the greatest amount of time and effort on the two goals/tasks that are pivotal to success, that will have the most impact, require the most careful deliberation and strategic, deeper thinking to enhance cognitive performance. As T. Boone Pickens would say, “When hunting elephants, don’t get distracted chasing rabbits.”

You can strengthen your strategic brain habits by how you choose to use your brain every day, so build a brain that strategically filters and focuses and put the above Know Brainers into practice. Improving your brain health can be as simple as remembering none, one and two – leading to increased productivity and improved well-being. 

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