Monday, May 7, 2012

Life's Messy. Train Your Brain to Adapt

Sagittal human brain with cortical regions del...
Sagittal human brain with cortical regions delineated. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margaret Moore is the founder and co-director of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital. Paul Hammerness, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Together, they hope to get at the physical and psychological roots of chaos. In a recent interview, Moore told Big Think that there is a cognitive basis for chronic disorganization.

Organization, she says, is not just about a cluttered desk. It’s about self-regulation, a skill that is developed by the pre-frontal cortex--the seat of executive function in the brain. The left pre-frontal cortex regulates your attention: it evaluates, judges, makes decisions. Modern life, with its barrage of incoming emails and phone calls and texts, taxes the pre-frontal cortex, inhibiting the brain’s ability to focus. Those who have naturally strong self-regulation can handle the overload—and those who don’t are left feeling guilty and out of control.

But the plasticity of the brain means we can all learn to be better focused and more organized. “When you can focus all of your brain on one thing, that’s when you’re at your best, she says. "You’re integrating all your brain. But it also consumes a huge amount of resources. You get tired. That’s really how the brain learns—when the brain is learning, it’s laying down new networks. The brain is changing when we focus. It takes a lot of energy, and when it’s depleted it isn’t able to manage the emotional brain. When your pre frontal cortex is depleted, your emotions rule all day. ”

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