Did you realise you’re only in control of five per cent of your brain’s activity? That working less is more effective than endlessly sitting at your desk? And that chocolate is a proven stress-buster? Neil Pavitt is the man in the know
Life hacks are those nifty little insights that make everyday living easier, the nuggets of wisdom that smooth out the niggles. Now a new book, Brainhack by Neil Pavitt, aims to do the same for our minds.
Pavitt has scoured scientific findings and research studies to identify 45 shortcuts to help reduce our stress levels, improve creativity and boost productivity.
For a start, it’s a fact, explains Pavitt, that although we might think that endlessly toiling away behind a screen is the most effective way to get things done, the perfect formula for productivity is a 50-minute stint of focused working.
This should be followed by an 18-minute break, ideally including watching a funny video on YouTube. Even if the cute cat clip is a stretch too far, studies have shown that we can only focus effectively for a maximum of 50 minutes, and that to extend this actually reduces our output, advises Pavitt.
It’s an interesting approach to productivity that draws from the ‘less is more’ school of thought. Similarly, while having the latest gadget or device might convey an image of efficiency, a good old-fashioned pen and paper could be a more effective way to work.
“In meetings it’s better to write notes than type,” says Pavitt.
“Studies show that although it takes US longer to write, we self-edit as we do so, and are more likely to remember material more effectively.”
The book is packed with these and other fantastic tips, many of which are easy to adopt in day-to-day life. “Amazingly, 95 per cent of your brain’s day-to-day activity is unconscious,” continues Pavitt. “One hundred billion neurons, one hundred trillion connections and we’re only in control of a tiny five per cent of it.”
Pavitt, himself, has used many of the brainhacks in his book to improve his own brain function and effectiveness. “I do try to use the techniques,” he says. “I aim to have a focused hour in the morning, and try to work in 50-minute blocks, looking at emails and social media only in breaks.
Our brain likes these type of rewards, and that’s why it’s often so hard to get started on a task.
“I haven’t got a great memory, but I am more interested in letting my brain wander to explore something creatively. I’ve met creative geniuses that are lacking in other areas, and in any team it’s good to aim to have a blend of different skills to get the best effect from each other.
For most of us, our comfort zone is geared more towards being either analytical or creative, but we can train our mind in all areas.”
Pavitt says that we also have the ability to control and change how we feel about a memory.
“Take public speaking for example, says Pavitt. “It might be something we’re not comfortable with doing but by associating it with a pleasant feeling we can lessen the negative connotation we have attached to standing up in a room full of people and delivering a speech.
“Language too can contextualise the way we feel about a situation. For example, watching a video of a car crash and having it then described as cars hitting or smashing affects the degree of severity you associate with the incident.”
Alongside his work as an author, Pavitt runs workshops on creativity, brand storytelling and brainhacking to help others realise their creative potential.
“It’s like anything, the more we understand the way our brain works, the greater our ability to exercise and refine its function and capability.”
Brainhack: Tips and Tricks to Unleash Your Brain’s Full Potential by Neil Pavitt is published by Wiley.
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