We are explorers

Brain Rule #12 – We are powerful and natural explorers. – John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008


Throughout the history of man we have been explorers.  We left the caves and organized into villages, we looked over the hill and saw fire, we crossed oceans and pioneered new lands, we explored the sky and landed men on the moon . . . mankind always seeks what’s next.  We are on a timeline of exploration.  It is how we are wired; it is what we do.


As individuals we are wired to be explorers too.  We test, we hypothesize, we experiment, and we learn.  Parts of our brain apply a scientific approach; we test a hypothesis before exploring.  The emotional part of our brain takes a more trial and error approach; we use trial and error with little fear of failure.  We continue to create new neurons – new pathways to learn new things throughout life.


Our passion for growth, our desire to be better today than we were yesterday, is predicated on our instinctive desire to explore.  We weigh the options of productive discomfort and emotional fears.  We strive to be coachable and live discipline lives of focus and purpose.  You are reading a daily blog, reflecting, and exploring for a thought that will quench a thirst for knowledge.  You want to be better, to do better, and to serve better.


You are a powerful explorer with the opportunity to change lives.  Don’t fight the natural instinct to go further; don’t resist that urge to climb higher.


We left the caves . . . we crossed the hills . . . and the sky is no longer your limit.

Men and women handle stress differently 

Rule # 11 – Male and female brains are different. – John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008 

According to John Medina, the way men and women handle acute stress is very different. For women, stress activates the left hemisphere of the brain and women remember emotional details. For men, it’s the right amygdala and they are more detail focused.


Now . . . and please note we are speaking in generalities here . . . how we handle stress is a huge component to how we work as a team. We are, by nature, collaborative. We all can agree that the relationships we build and develop – both at work and at home – are the cornerstone of our happiness. We are successful, or we fail, based on the way we work and play with others.


Understanding those with whom we associate, being able to process situations to determine the desired outcome is essential for powerful teams. The more we work together, the stronger our bonds, the better we support and push each other. As we embrace our growth mindset we must also commit to the power of our team.


Understanding each other doesn’t have to start from “ground zero.” Our past experiences – the science behind Brain Rules – can help us frame our perspective to have the best possible outcomes. The best professional staffs I’ve worked with have balance – it is men and women professionally working together to reach shared goals. This balance is necessary. The balance of emotion and detail; the difference lenses to solve problems, to understand situations, and to set goals is part of a high functioning team.


We must invest the time to care listen and communicate with each other, to ask for help and give help, and to respect our differences. This is how we embrace the power of the team.

Vision trumps all

Brain Rule #10 – Vision trumps all other senses. – John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008 

While smell evokes powerful memories . . . often without conscious thought . . . vision takes up half of the brain’s resources. We learn best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.


Here is the amazing part – we only see what our brain tells us to see. How our brain decodes the signals from the retina through to cortex and finally back to what we think we see is complex. There are times that two people – watching the same event – will have different recollections of the event based on their personal perspective.


It is important for us to make sure we provide clear, repeated visual experiences over time. When we see an instant replay on television of a sporting event, that second viewing changes our perspective – it encodes the same visual in a slightly different way. When we see that replay in super-slow-motion it again encodes the signals to the brain in a different way.  


When you are looking at a piece of art or climb to the top of a mountain to catch a breathtaking view – you naturally change your perspective. Each different view, each time we change the visual we encode that specific visual into our memory.


When you want a group – when you want yourself – to remember something it is best to provide the visual stimuli in different ways and from different lenses. Change your perspective – or – change the perspective of your audience. Say it – show it – and show it again from a different perspective.

The power of smell

Brain Rule #9 – Stimulate more of the senses at the same time. – John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008 

Smells . . . smells seem to bring back the most powerful memories. According to John Medina, this is because smells bypass the thalamus and head straight to the amygdala . . . right to the part of the brain that supervises emotions. This is why certain aromas take us right back to a certain experience . . . we are immediately overcome with a specific feeling.


From the smell of freshly cut grass to that fresh pine smell that brings us back to our childhood memories of Christmas. From the smell of a specific beach to the fragrance of your spouse’s perfume or cologne – smell evokes memories and emotion.


The more senses we stimulate at any given time the more likely we are to remember any given situation. The electrical signals that disperse throughout our brain are connected . . . they are hooks . . . and the more hooks the more deep-seated a memory becomes.


How does this relate to our work? Is this guy really suggesting we introduce smells into our work as teachers, leaders, and colleagues? Seriously?


No, I am not suggestion you walk around with cans of Axe or Glade to use during a meeting. I am suggesting that you go beyond simply connecting with words or presentations. Think about what you want people to remember – pairing multiple sensory approaches stimulate memory . . . it stimulates growth. From music to videos . . . from touch to hearing . . . from seeing to feeling . . . be purposeful and intentional in your approach. If you want people to remember, stimulate more of the senses at the same time.

Don’t Stress

Brain Rule #8 – Stressed brains don’t learn the same way – John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008

There are two major types of stress – immediate stress and chronic stress. In circumstances of immediate stress the body releases adrenaline and cortisol; we face and handle the immediacy of the situation. In these crisis situations, we react to the situation, we step-up, and then the danger or immediacy ends. We have the opportunity to “crash” to relax and to recover.

The second type of stress is actually more dangerous to our health. The second type of stress deregulates a system built to deal with short term threats. This second type of stress creates scars in our blood vessels, damages cells in our brain, and cripples our ability to learn. Chronic stress impacts across society. On our children, chronic stress inhibits their ability to learn. For adults, chronic stress destroys culture and challenges relationships.

The sense of helplessness is often a significant contributing factor to chronic stress; having no control or ability to improve a situation.

We must breakdown walls, overcome barriers, and empower each individual to embrace hope. We make each other better . . . we listen, care, and communicate. We can’t, we won’t permit chronic stress to be part of our workplace. When you see it – stop it. When you feel it – talk about it.

Finally, if you find yourself feeling hopeless and helpless and things aren’t getting better, then make a change. Only you can control you – you aren’t trapped. There is always hope; there is always help.

Sleep well, think well 

Brain Rule #7 – Sleep well, think well – John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008
Confession of the author . . . this is a challenge for me.  
As with many of these rules, there is a time when and a place where “stuff happens.” We know that exercise is important. We know that we must create experiences for events to transfer to memories. Come on man . . . there is only so much time in a day!
Yes, people vary in the amount of sleep they require. Some are blessed with the ability to function on 6-7 hours of sleep . . . other may required 8-9 hours per night. Regardless, my guess is that there are days – maybe weeks – when you never feel rested and rejuvenated. There are times – and we know it – when we are not at our best.
We create predictable events when we don’t get enough sleep. Our filter becomes porous -some of those self-talk thoughts are actually verbalized (and often with negative consequences.) We forget to press pause. We lose patience quickly and we process information with less accuracy. This is predicable . . . it can’t be a surprise.
Our sleep habits require prioritization. If we don’t take care of ourselves we will be unable to serve and take care of others. Furthermore – and taking this to the next level – when you know you aren’t at your best, don’t put yourself in a position to make bad decisions. When a meeting runs really late and you don’t get a good night of sleep, keep that at the forefront of your mind during the next day.  
There are some preventable mistakes if we remember our Brain Rules. You are in control of you – and you are part of a great collaborative team. Ask for help when you need it – give help when others need it. There is great power in the team!

Remember to Repeat

Brain Rule #6 – Remember to repeat – John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008
No . . . this isn’t the same as yesterday. My hope is that you remember yesterday’s message.
Most memories only survive a couple of minutes. The things you have already encountered today are far too numerous to actively remember them all . . . you only actually remember a fraction of the sensory events that take place around you.
Long-term memories have meaning . . . long-term memories are the result of “self-talk” between your hippocampus and your cortex. It often takes years for a long-term memory to be embedded in the cortex.
If you want to remember something – I mean really remember it – you must remember to repeat it. You must, in your actions and self-talk, take the time and exert the energy, to remember to repeat the information. You must reread it, talk about it, think about it, and apply it.
What do you remember? I mean really remember. You have memories that are highly emotional and you remember things you have repeated and repeated over time. It may be something you repeat week after week in church (for a lifetime) or something you’ve used every day for many years.  
If something is important to you . . . if you want something to be important to others . . . it can’t be a one-time, one-year initiative. It must be important enough to live each and every day! You must remember to repeat.

Repeat to Remember

Brain Rule #5 – Repeat to remember – John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008
The more elaborately we encode a memory – the more we find value and emotion in the event – during the initial moments, the stronger the memory will be. Your life is full of memories. You are reading this right now . . . will you remember it?
The encoding process is essential as all information entering your brain is divided into fragments that are sent to different regions of your brain. The more regions you reach . . . the more meaning in each region . . . the better chance you will remember it. 
Let’s return to learning theories class with Vygotsky . . . the more hooks you create to an event, the more likely you are to remember it. You are building a scaffold based on past experiences, emotional responses, and levels of interest. Repeated events – especially with meaning and emotion – become deeper seated memories.
As we work together, as we work with others, we must remember how we remember. How many times do we, as leaders, say, “I sent it in an email or I said it in a meeting”? We must extend beyond saying or sending it . . . we must create hooks.
You . . . as a leader . . . as a teacher . . . as a spouse . . . as a parent . . . as a friend must decide what’s important enough to communicate in multiple memory systems. We must prioritize our messages, focus our communications, and engage in active emotions. Not everything can be important . . . if it is you better reevaluate your purpose.

Don’t be Boring!

Brain Rule #4 – Attention – We don’t pay attention to boring things — John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008 

Growing up as a preacher’s kid I was always concerned with the length of Dad’s sermons. In fact, I would often sit in the back of the church (as a good Lutheran we sat in “our seats” every Sunday). I would hold up 10 fingers as a signal – a not always appreciated reminder to Dad – that he was at the 10 minute mark.  


As an observant youngster I noticed it was around 10 minutes that people listening to the sermon would start to drift off, they would shift their attention from the message to other things. Next time you are forced to sit and listen for a period of time pay attention to others. It is around 10 minutes that people start looking out the window, appreciating the art, or reading the bulletin. It’s at that 10 minute mark that you notice your own mismatched socks or the lady with the funny hat three rows ahead of you.


We don’t pay attention to boring things and we can only hold attention for a fixed period of time. Yes, tapping into emotion grabs attention back, but that can be a challenge (especially if we have been sitting for a longer period of time – go back to exercise post.)


In summary – don’t be boring! Don’t make people listen to you for more than 10 minutes. PowerPoint presentations aren’t emotional (more to come on this later) . . . use emotion, get people moving, and keep it short.


Don’t be boring!

Every Brain is Wired Differently

Brain Rule #3 – Wiring – Every brain is wired differently — John Medina, Brain Rules, 2008 

Many of us like rules . . . we want the owner’s manual, the rulebook, or the rubric. We hear all the time, “just tell me what you want me to do.”


The problem with owner’s manuals, rulebooks, and rubrics is that they are static. Sure, the owner’s manual for your car will explain how to change the clock on the radio or provide the requisite tire pressure, but as humans we aren’t static. The human brain continues to rewire itself – and we do it without installing upgraded operating systems. The human brain physically changes; it literally rewires itself. To further complicate matters, no two people learn or store information in the same manner. How we live, what we do, and how we interact is a personal experience.


We live in groups, but we all learn and experience life differently. We must find ways to both share experiences, yet respect differences. We must seek opportunities to engage and interact with the appreciation that others may have a completely different lens. This is an imperative concept in all teaching situations. The rulebook or playbook is different for each individual . . . it is up to us to seek opportunities for connections.