I am just off the back of an 8 week period of speaking and running workshops around Australia for the 2018 CPA Congress event. It was a wonderful event, full of brilliant speakers, thought leaders, academics and professionals brought together through an inspired agenda by CPA Australia.
A particular highlight for me was the opportunity to hear Cognitive Neuroscientist, Dr Jared Cooney-Horvath, close the Brisbane conference with his ’Tips and Tricks to Make it Stick’ session. We’ve all been to conferences where we walk away with pages of notes, thousands of great ideas and intentions, but when confronted with reality (and a full calendar) the next day, all those great ideas escape like air out of a deflating balloon. Jared's session dove into what goes on in our brain when we learn, and how our memory works (or doesn’t) when we feed it with new information. I love studying the brain, as I believe that the more we understand about what’s going on inside our brain, the more we can approach our work and life more strategically and achieve things faster, easier and enjoy ourselves the process. The birth of each of my children are testament to that theory, but that’s a story for another time...
My takeaways from Jared's session included:
The difference between an ‘episodic’ memory (tied to a particular time and place) and a ‘semantic’ memory (one your brain can recall free of context) and how to move through that process.
The 4 rules to create semantic memories:
The need for sleep: think about a game of Tetris (I think today’s equivalent is Candy Crush) where each brick is a new exposure. What happens when you sleep, it organises the bricks in rows, and then clears the rows to create more space for new exposures and memories the following day. This is why executives like StockX’s Josh Luber makes time for naps during the day. In addition to increased energy and focus, it helps bed down thoughts and ideas.
Deep lasting memories require active recall, not passive review: it’s simple - when you keep accessing memories they cement more deeply in your brain. The call to action here is create opportunities to use and share new ideas, not wait for the time to come.
Match memories to performance: practice the new thing, idea, tool in context, otherwise you won’t be able to use it. Think about a time when you’ve prepared for a meeting - memorising those slides on your laptop at your desk rehearsing them in your head. Then you go to the presentation, you’re standing up looking at the slides projected on a screen, saying the words out loud and suddenly your message doesn't land the way you had intended. Make it easy, and practice in context.
Recall requires feedback: Jared ran a great activity which demonstrated how we use the primacy effect to shortcut memory and how easy it is for us to get memories wrong. To really ‘know’ something, you need feedback, which is why the old school ‘flashcard’ is still so useful in today’s context.
Did you know that our brain is a lazy passive blob that is waiting for us to feed it. Our styles, skills and preferences are not set in stone, they are simply shaped by the experiences we’ve had to date. So it’s up to us to feed it new stuff, experiences, ideas, so that we can learn and grow. We are born with the natural ability to have a ‘growth mindset’.
Which brings me to the final point that resonated with me most. Why would we not take advantage of this incredibly malleable organ and make the best from it, make the most out of it? In Jared words, ‘because it feels crunchy’: it feels uncomfortable, awkward and sometimes awful. This happens when our brain has gone into ‘theta’ mode, and it is in this mode that our brain is physically growing. However, because of the discomfort it brings us, our reaction is to revert to ‘beta’ mode - one where we’re more comfortable. Linked with our inherent fear of failure, the reason I think this point is so important is this: we must embrace the discomfort of 'the crunch' and move through and beyond it because this is what creates progress and deep learning. Further, we need to role model this for our children, so that a learning culture and mindset can be passed on to generations to come.
So my key takeaway is that we need Crunch Time. Without the crunch, we stagnate and we will lose relevance: fast. Crunch Time helps us grow - it is a stepping stone to achieving our goals. We simply need to know how to work through the discomfort so we have the strength to persevere. Because as Nelson Mandela said, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’.
Love to hear how you might approach your next Crunch Time….
PS - don’t forget you can listen to this instead! Click here.
About Alena: Alena works with leaders and their teams to connect technical and leadership skills so they can deliver to deadline without killing their people. She is a mentor, trainer, facilitator and coach. Contact her today on firstname.lastname@example.org