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Four executive brain functions we need to thriveImage created by pikisuperstarYour brain is like the CEO of your body. If you knew how a CEO thinks, what their values are, and how they like to work, you would provide them with the best possible piece of work.

It is exactly like this with your brain. The more you about its workings, the more you can get out of it. It is important to know that the executive functions of your brain are the highest functions of your brain.

Here is what they are and how to optimise them.

1) Regulate your emotions

When overly aroused by real or imagined dangers (overwhelm, stress, irritation, anger), the limbic system impairs your brain functioning in many significant ways. This reduced functioning often occurs without conscious awareness, and reduces the resources available for prefrontal cortex functioning (clarity, creativity and innovation).

It is crucial to observe your “state” and try to manage it so that you find yourself in the prefrontal cortex, and less in the limbic part of your brain.

2) Switch between tasks

Nowadays we live in an era of “always on, everywhere, every-time” - making decisions quickly and efficiently.

This “always on” mode of keeping a top-level item in focus, while scanning the periphery in case something important emerges, increases the allostatic load (a reading of stress hormones). This is called “continuous partial attention”- when one’s focus is split continuously, and the effect is constant and intense mental exhaustion.

To optimise your “always on” mode, be present when you are busy with a specific task. Then, move to the next task, and be all there.

3) Solve complex problems

Thinking takes time and effort. The brain likes to minimise energy usage because the brain developed at a time when metabolic resources were scarce. There is a slight discomfort involved in putting effort into thinking (if effort were fun, most households wouldn’t have dishwashing machines).

Ensure that you schedule blocks for strategic, innovative, and creative thinking. It is ideal to be well-rested, well-fed and in a good space – preferably early morning.

4) Think creatively and flexibly

To think creatively you want blood to be flowing freely to all parts of your brain, carrying the glucose and oxygen needed for thinking.

If you are stressed or overwhelmed the brain moves the blood supply away from the higher centres of the brain, down to what’s called survival mode. In this state, you are unlikely to be productive.

Take time out and resolve these issues, and return to work as a more productive person. You will feel warmer towards people, be more likely to trust people. You are also more likely to think creatively, and to deal with risk.

Mindfulness – optimising your executive functions

David Rock mentions that becoming more present and mindful, activates and optimises executive functions. By noticing more real-time information, one becomes more flexible in how you respond to the world. You become less imprisoned by the past, your habits, expectations, assumptions, and more able to respond to events as they unfold.

It is in this space that you will thrive as a CEO, Executive or Business owner!

This article was submitted by Annemarie Ross-Vivier, from Mindskills. If this is something which interests you, contact her on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or see more on the website www.mindskills.co.za .

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