How fit is your brain?

Leaders: How Fit Is Your Brain?

We’ve known for some time that leaders require higher levels of emotional intelligence as they pursue career advancement. There’s now accumulating evidence that cognitive fitness is becoming a focal area for high-achieving leaders.

Until recently, busy executives could find few guidelines for increasing mental fitness on the job. There are thousands of books about the brain’s function, but only a handful focus on how leaders can harness its powers in a business world that’s increasingly complex.

I think that’s the real challenge. At least that’s what I hear from the busy executives I coach. We now know a lot more about how the brain functions, and that we can keep it healthy and even strengthen it in the face of stress and crises. But how exactly do leaders become more mentally fit on-the-job?

Neuroscientists began to understand the brain’s intricacies after conducting imaging techniques in the 1990s. But how can the concept of “brain fitness” be applied in real time, to real people, in real organizations? What types of brain exercises or mental pushups can we do to stave off the loss of memory and analytic acuity that accompany stress and normal aging?

Socrates, Copernicus and Galileo continued to stretch their intellectual muscles well into their 60s and 70s. So have modern thought leaders like Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffet, and Sumner Redstone.

As more of us remain in the labor force past age 65, either by choice or necessity, what can we do to boost our brain power?

By the close of the 20th century, the brain had come to be envisaged as mutable across the whole of life, open to environmental influences, damaged by insults, and nourished and even reshaped by stimulation—in a word, plastic. ~ Sociologist Nikolas Rose and graduate student Joelle M. Abi-Rached, Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind (Princeton University Press, 2013)

It turns out that a lot of what we previously thought about the brain isn’t true. We’ve discovered, for example, that the brain continues to grow well into our later years through a process called “neuroplasticity.” It accommodates learning by producing new neurons, the cells that help transfer information.

With physical training, your body responds to demands by strengthening muscle groups. Similarly, the brain will expand (or not) depending on the challenges you tackle. That’s the good news.

The bad news? If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Unless, of course, you take measures to strength your brain fitness. And that’s what this series of posts is about: how leaders can improve their brain fitness.

Does this idea of brain fitness for leaders resonate with you? I’d love to hear from you.

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