I recently spoke with Dr. Tara Swart –”the only leadership coach with a PhD in neuroscience”–about the essential things we should know about how our brain processes and retains new skills and experiences.

Here are my five key takeaways:

  1. Take the tiger by the tail. When we try something new, our brain sees this new thing as predator. An animal in the wild. But we can tell it that is isn’t, but thinking about how we have dared to disrupt in the past, when we made a calculated move to step back or sideways despite many people thinking we had lost our minds, and then that sideways turned into a slingshot. And if that’s not possible. Then look for someone who has done what you want to do, whether taking on a new role, becoming a parent, traveling abroad for the first time, or starting a business. Understanding our brain helps us say, I’ve seen that tiger before, and grab it by the tail.
  1. Change requires perseverance. Period. Especially at the beginning. When you don’t yet have enough information to know if it’s hard, but not frustrating, because it will be hard AND frustrating. The good news is that trying new things is something your brain can be trained to do. Whether it’s Tara learning Danish. Or me saying yes, rather than no, the next time my husband and daughter invite me to go fishing. So I suppose it’s not just learning something new requires resolve, but learning to learn does too.
  1. We tend to undervalue what we are – because of evolution. When we play to our strengths, or what we do reflexively well, we are calm. Unguarded. Which puts us in danger. Because our brains are much more averse to losing a little, than gaining a lot. But if we can reprogram our brain, write new code, that involves self-belief, and that there’s relative safety, in trying something new. Then we are more likely to play to our strengths. And in turn, be more successful.
  1. Our bodies really do affect our brains. We hear this a lot. But I think most of us tend to emotionally disconnect from our body. To live in our head. But if we will get enough sleep, eat food that is good for us – like with my no cookies, candy and cake in 2016 – drink more water, and be more mindful, including disconnecting. Meditating just 12 minutes. Disconnecting from our smart devices. Our brains will give us permission to try new things – and to allow us to choose how we will respond to a situation rather than our instincts just taking over.
  1. Why we don’t find the next great thing / idea, even when we think we want to. It’s called Unconscious Bias. It is meant to protect us. And as a bodyguard or the brain’s body man, it does a superb job.  But in order to think creatively, this bodyguard has to let our unconscious biases take a vacation. It’s a lot easier to do when we are rested, hydrated, and our life is simplified so that our brain has the capacity, like RAM in our computer to process new ideas, people and even dreams.

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