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Modern stress and our old brain

7 June 2018

By Theo Compernolle, Medical specialist in Neuropsychiatry, Professor at the CEDEP (European Centre for Executive Development), and teacher and coach in the executive programs of business schools like INSEAD and TIAS. He is also the author of the bestseller “BrainChains”.

Our brain is our most valuable asset, and yet most of us don’t know anything about the way it works. Using modern technology in an uninformed way and not taking into account the strengths and limitations of our brain causes our intellectual productivity to decrease.

We have a reflecting brain, a reflex brain and an archiving brain. We need to pay attention not to destroy our creative thinking capacity by always being ‘connected’ and by working in a ‘reactive’ manner. On the contrary, we need to take better care of our reflective brain, the one that is at the origin of all creative ideas. Taking breaks and having a good night’s sleep to let the archiving brain do its work are also crucial for the brain to be able to function optimally.

Always being connected lies at the root of the problem. Incessant use of email, text, and phones makes the brain reactive and continuously stressed. Multitasking, at least at the level of the reflecting brain, does not exist. What many of us are trying to do is ‘task switching’ a practice that exhausts our brain, greatly reduces our productivity and leads to ever greater stress and frustration. Instead of switching tasks, the way forward is to process batches of tasks and take a pause after each task is completed.

Another problem is open office spaces. Employees are continuously interrupted - on average every three minutes - by other colleagues’ phones, conversations, and disruptions of all kinds. This results in an unavoidable loss of productivity, stress, and exhaustion. Instead, try to create workspaces tailored to the reflective brain and encourage concentration.