1. Lessons In Leadership
  2. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Training for brain gain

The first in a series on the journey for better brain health.

There’s this amazing machine perched at the top of your spinal column. It has an estimated 80 billion neurons with each one connecting to seven thousand other neurons firing 50 trillion synapses or more! 

Can you tell that I’m taking a course on brain health?

Like every other business leader trying to guide their people through challenging, stressful times, I worry about our collective brain health. Not only are we trying to pull out of a pandemic-induced vortex of anxiety and trauma, but daily demands on our brains are increasing. According to Fast Company, in 2011, Americans were already taking in five times as much information on a daily basis as they did in 1986. Imagine how that has accelerated in the last ten years. (It feels like it’s doubled in the last two years, but maybe that’s just me.)

Anyway, as mentioned previously, Freeman has responded by partnering with the Center for BrainHealth® in Dallas. They have been working with our first “cohort” (their term for the first wave of employees) to teach them how to monitor and improve their brains’ resilience, fortitude, and clarity. In the spirit of practicing what I preach, I’ve signed up and am already engaged in a 20-week journey as part of the second cohort.

Freeman embarked on this program to help our people, who have been under extraordinary stress for nearly two years. In addition to serious pandemic woes, they have seen the conference and tradeshow industry they love, their careers, and their own company brought to the brink. And now we are asking them to hit the ground running as the business returns, even as we put in place new processes and procedures they have to learn as they go. So yes, brain health is a priority.

As a CEO, I am keenly aware of the adage that says you get more of what you measure. And while we have any number of ways to measure physical health, historically, we haven’t had great KPIs for everyday brain health. So, what the scientists at the Center for BrainHealth have done is create a self-administered assignment of sorts — a series of short survey questions that result in a personal BrainHealth Index (BHI) for each participant. This isn’t a score. I’m a bit competitive, and I’ve already been warned not to compare my BHI to someone else’s. That would be like comparing your weight without factoring height, age, or body mass; actually,  each person’s brain health and fitness is as unique as their fingerprint. Its relevance is in finding personal balance and brain fitness. The BHI becomes your baseline, a metric you can use to explore aspects of your own cognitive capacity, sense of well-being, quality of social interactions, and the complexity of your daily routines.

Getting the BHI is a lot like the evaluation you might undergo before you start working with a physical therapist or trainer on personal goals. Right now, my routine is 15 minutes a day for four weeks as I work my way through the Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning tactics (SMART™) module. I am excited about the prospect of boosting my brain’s health and performance. And I can report good results from the initial cohort of Freeman people (individual results are private and only aggregate info is made available). From their first BHI to the second, 91% of participants saw an improvement — on average, a 25% increase. Specifically, they reported that they were doing much better at finding time and space to focus deeply, to handle the demands of the day, and to avoid distractions. When we consider research that shows most of us typically work for approximately three minutes before getting interrupted or distracted, and then it takes 20-25 minutes to get back on track, you can appreciate the implications.

I can already see how this brain health initiative will reduce stress levels and boost productivity.  Starting with my own. It begins with replacing counterproductive habits with healthier ones involving sounder sleep patterns, reduced stress, and improved focus.

I’ll be blogging on this periodically as I progress. Stay tuned, and stay healthy.

P.s. If you want to embark on your own personal BrainHealth journey, you can sign up at thebrainhealthproject.org

Follow me on LinkedIn.