Most of us would love to think better, faster, and smarter.
But putting things into practice and knowing which habits actually propel us towards better thinking patterns is sometimes a mystery.
In Jenny Brockis’ book Smarter Sharper Thinking: Reduce Stress, Banish Fatigue and Find Focus there are countless yet targeted insights into how to improve your brain.
The books gives you the know-how on diverse issues that impact our brain, including the role of nutrition, sleeping patterns, leadership, creativity, organisational health, and insights.
Two key issues that determine organisational success
The two key issues that dominate high performing organizations are mental capital and organizational health.
Mental capital can be defined as
“the combination of cognitive ability (mental flexibility and efficiency) and emotional intelligence (dealing effectively with stress, resilience and social skills). (p. xxi)
In this context, mental wellbeing in turn is
“a dynamic state in which an individual can develop their potential, build strong and positive relationships, and contribute to the community” (p. xxi).
But these can only be unlocked in organisations that invest heavily in organisational health; that is workplaces that literally help people to think better and develop these skills.
In highly successful organisations, it is “people management” that is a high priority and leaders spent significant time trying to create opportunities for employees to feel safe and well at the workplace.
According to Patrick Lencioni, it is organisational health that will determine how well an organization can perform and this is increasingly true in a world where many of us still work from home.
Fostering quality mental capital and mental wellbeing means that our employees are much more engaged and also happier at work.
In fact, successful organisations truly foster increased mental capital and wellbeing so that people can literally think better.
Managing stress is about what we think of it
But there are many culprits to why we often do not perform at our best.
Out of all frustrations and barriers, stress however plays the largest role.
Many of us are feeling constantly stressed both at home and work to the extent that stress has become an epidemic in itself.
We all try to de-stress and often increase our stress levels just by thinking about all the negative health outcomes that our stress is likely to kick off.
However, recent studies have found that it is our own attitude to stress that is a large culprit:
“It’s not the amount or severity of the stress that harms us: it is our belief in whether or not we will sustain harm from the stress” (p. 127)
When we experience stress, our biological symptoms kick in and we literally feel stressed: our blood pressure goes up and we are in the flight-or-fight mode where we constantly try to detect danger.
We know that some level of stress is good as it keeps us alert and functioning.
However, it’s not the sources of stress that matter the most but how we share it with others and how we view it ourselves.
Recent studies have shown that people who believe that the stress is very bad for them are more likely to die from stress.
This is not to say that chronic stress is not bad for you, it certainly is and leads to serious health conditions.
But our attitude towards stress matters as it also is connected to our awareness of the strategies available for us to reduce it and deal with it.
Fostering positive learning environments matters
But this is connected also to the organisational health mentioned before: if we feel unsafe at work (in terms of stressful situation) we are sensing danger and focus our energy to be on the lookout rather than to create.
Organisations therefore are likely to perform much worse if organisational health is not good.
This is also because:
“when we are in a positive mood, our mind is more open to learning, to seeing things differently, to considering all options and possibilities” (p. 139).
Feeling safe is very much connected to creativity because when we feel safe, we don’t have the same physiological warning signs taking over our attention .(e.g. increased blood pressure, our brain focused on the signals that we are in danger).
Many of us often discount the role of emotions in the way we work, think and live.
But Jenny disagrees: we make over 30 000 decisions every day and many of those (even if unconsciously) are based on how we actually feel.
Therefore, organisations that strive to succeed need to pay attention in particular to how people feel at work, investigate the reasons for those feelings, and then seek to amplify those strategies that generate healthier and happier employees.
The book obviously covers much more than what am sharing here but what is clear to me is that there are very practical everyday reasons why we need to focus on developing smarter and sharper brains.
The bottomline is that we should treat the quality of our thinking as one of the most precious capabilities and act accordingly.
That means paying attention to how we think and instil a range of smarter sharper brain routines as part of what we do every day.