The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds – a 33 percent drop. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.
– The Telegraph (UK)
Think about this question: Do you have control of your brain?
Really give it some thought. Please don’t move forward until you’ve thought this through for a minute.
Now, our inclination is to answer something like: “Yeah! Of course. It’s my brain that’s in my body!” or “Who’s brain would it be?!”
Your brain assuredly belongs to you…but do you have control of it? Many of the world’s brightest neuroscientists say “No” to some degree or another. In fact, statistics show that most of the time our brain is sort of on “autopilot.”
Here are a couple examples:
- You’re on a diet and exercise routine, but for some reason – despite your better judgement and best intentions – you can’t wean yourself off of the glazed donuts at the local grocery store.
- You’ve promised yourself to stop with the negative, self-critical thoughts. But for some reason, they’ve seemed to proliferate even further.
These are just two off-the-cuff examples that you may or may not relate to. The underlying premise is this: we’ve all had thoughts that we wish we hadn’t. At times, we’ve even acted on these thoughts despite our better judgement or knowledge.
The simple answer to the question Do we have control of your brain is “Yes and no.” It’d be foolish to think that we have no control – after all, we do some of the things that we intend to. But we’re on autopilot an awful lot of the time. Perhaps eating on autopilot, driving on autopilot, thinking mindlessly on autopilot, listening on autopilot, talking on autopilot, etcetera.
Why is this?
Quite simply, it’s because the brain is “lazy” by default. The brain is incredibly complex and has evolved to find ways to operate more efficiently. The brain is also a pattern-recognizing machine – it’s designed to tie abstract things together in order to make sense of the environment. This is why it’s difficult to break out of habits once they’ve been established.
Without proper “training” the brain remains in autopilot mode a disproportionately large amount of the time. This is where our conscious mind comes in.
“Retraining” the mind doesn’t have to be an elaborately complex process. In fact, by resolving to memorize four basic questions can simplify any challenge, problem or decision we face – big or small.
Asking Yourself These Questions Every Morning Can Change Your Brain
Every morning, commit to asking these four questions when facing a challenge/problem/decision.
1. What is really important?
Ann Hermann-Nehdi, CEO of Herrman International and guest speaker at multiple TED conferences, calls this the “payoff” question because we’re consciously programming why it is we’re doing something in particular.
For example, many of us decide we want to “exercise more.” This is an abstract concept that needs to be more concrete. What is important that makes us want to “exercise more”? Physical appearance? Lower cholesterol? To be a role model?
What is really important to you that makes you want to lose weight? Or get a promotion? Go back to school? Buy a home? Start a business? Etcetera. Don’t allow the mind to lazily put this question off – providing substantive rationale for any challenge/decision/problem makes it much more likely that you’ll see it through to the end.
2. How am I going to do it?
We have a tendency to say we’re going to do something without forming any type of plan. To do so is actually very common. It is common because our brain has a devious way of avoiding responsibility.
Here’s another example: we’ve decided to “look for a different job.” Granted, this sounds simple enough – but how many people stay in the same job despite their misplaced intentions? Often times, the reason people do such is because they never had a plan.
So, how is this hypothetical person going to “look for a different job?” Carve out an hour or two each Saturday morning? Research companies that are hiring in the area? Network with people on LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter? Freshen up the resume? Post to multiple job boards? Seek the knowledge of a recruiter/headhunter?
3. Who is going to be involved?
It’s possible that the decision to take some kind of action won’t involve anyone else but you. If this is the case, so be it. But it’s advisable to at least contemplate the question of who is – or could be – involved in any decision and/or consequences of such a decision.
One mistake that people make when facing a challenge/problem/decision is overlooking those who are affected by said decision(s). Again, this is the brain’s way of shirking any necessary but unwanted effort. To understand who is potentially involved in either the decision or consequence of a decision is to bypass possible complications that arise from someone else’s perspective.
4. What if _____happened?
In some instances, it is good to have a contingency plan in the event of the unfortunate. As an illustration, let us use the examples from earlier.
“I want to “I want to exercise more.”
What if I got injured?
“First, I’d examine if some type of exercise would be possible. Second, in the event that I couldn’t exercise, I’d cut back on some food types…”
“I want to look for a different job.”
What if my spouse fights it?
“My spouse deserves a rational explanation for why I want a different job. I’ll lay out my case and address any concerns.”
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Usually, we can anticipate what or who may be potential “obstacles” for potential decisions. If we anticipate a potential obstacle, depending upon the situation, it may be worthwhile to come up with an appropriate response.