9 Ways to Boost Brain Power

God gave each of us a two-pound dynamo called the human brain. It’s truly the most amazing physical object in the universe. Yet, many people (and leaders) don’t take care of their brains and later in life they pay the price. However, we can keep boost our brain power and keep our brains healthy and humming along with 9 simple choices.

Brain

First, some sobering facts about the brain.

  1. Our brain’s overall volume decrease 5% per decade after the age of 40.
  2. Dendrites at the end of our brain cells (think of the roots of a tree) begin to decline starting in our twenties. The more ‘bushy’ our dendrites, the better and more efficient our brain processes information.
  3. Gray matter (brain cells called neurons) also begin to decline starting in our mid-20′s.
  4. The insulation (called myelin) that wraps around the tail of a neuron (called an axon) thins as we age. The thicker the myelin the faster the electrical impulses travel along the axon. And, faster is better.
  5. The receptors for the neurotransmitter chemical called dopamine decreases. This chemical plays a major role in attention, learning, and reward.

These brain changes lead to memory loss, decreased attention, slowed mental processing, and lessens our ability to learn. However, even with these sobering facts, we can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and keep our brains healthy by applying these 9 choices

9 Ways to Boost Brain Power

  1. Get moving.
    • Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. When we exercise, a chemical called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) is released and it keeps our neurons healthy. Some call it the brain’s Miracle Grow.
  2. Use it our lose it.
    • Think of your brain as a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. The more we use our brain, the more we create something called cognitive reserve, the brain’s savings account. As we age, the more cognitive reserve we have developed, the more capacity the brain has to reallocate functions to other regions of the brain from regions that may not be working as well.
  3. Make lots of friends. 
    • Staying connected to others in community helps keep your brain fresh.
  4. Volunteer/serve others.
    • People who volunteer have a much less chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease and have less stress. Prolonged stress on the body can actually shrink our brain, especially in our memory center.
  5. Keep you devotional life strong.
    • At the end of our chromosomes lie tiny end caps called telemeres, much like the plastic sleeves at the end of our shoe laces. Scientists have discovered a positive correlation to the length of these end caps and longevity. In studies of those who regularly mediate, their chromosomes consistenly have longer telemeres. So, a daily quiet time may help you live longer.
  6. Don’t veg in front of the TV.
    • In some sobering new research, scientists have discovered that watching too much TV can alter the brain structure of children in areas related to verbal intelligence. So, monitor the amount of TV you watch.
  7. Eat your spinach.
    • A healthy diet is crucial for brain health. Foods such as dark leafy veggies, blueberries, green tea, and those rich in omega-3 fatty acids (the brain’s building blocks) bodes well for a healthy brain. Some supplements such MCT oil, vitamins E and B, and CoQ10 may also boost brain power.
  8. Learn something new.
    • The brain loves novelty. When we learn something new (learn a new skill or develop a new hobby), we actually encourage growth of new brain cells.
  9. Get adequate sleep.
    • When we sleep the brain is quite active. It consolidates what we learned that day into long-term memory and helps grow new neurons in our memory center (the hippocampus). Sleep also clears out a deposit called beta amyloid that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease.

Take care of your brain and it will serve you well. Since the brain is part of the body, we should heed the words of the Apostle Paul.

1Cor. 6.19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (NIV)

If you are interested in how brain insight can help improve leadership, watch for my new book coming out this May, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry. If you want a reminder when it comes out, you can join my email list here. It is now available for pre-order.

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Just Because You are Competent to Develop a New Competency, Should You?

I lead a young men’s leadership group on Thursday mornings and enjoy spending time with these young leaders. This past week we discussed the challenge we all face to choose the right priorities, work on our weaknesses, and wisely manage our time. Out of that conversation, this phrase entered the conversation. “Just because we may have the competency to develop new competencies, should we?”

  In other words, how can we discern when to give time, resources, and attention to learning something new, working on a personal deficit, or developing a new skill or competency? Consider these questions as you discern a potential new direction.

Business decision

Before I suggest a few questions, it’s worth noting that in the last few years some influential movements have arisen that bear upon this question.

  • The simplicity movement in the church (i.e., Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church and Bill Hybels’s newest book, Simplify)
  • Focusing on your strengths (Gallup’s 30 year strength’s based research resulting in the popular book Strengths Based Leadership)
  • Positive psychology (psychological interventions that focus not so much on our problems, but upon the good stuff in our lives)

As I just passed the sixty year mark, I realize that I don’t have the energy I did when I was thirty, and that as I age, my brain simply slows down. Actually, we begin to lose brain cells beginning in our mid-twenties, a sobering thought. So, I must wisely manage my energy, time, and passion to focus on that which I believe God wants me to accomplish in my final decades.

So the next time you consider giving significant time to a new project, addressing a personal weakness, or developing a new competency, ask yourself these questions.

  1. Would this choice reinforce my God-given strengths and gifts?
  2. Would it increase my potential to maximize Kingdom impact?
  3. Does it fit within my life purpose? If you are not clear on your life purpose and personal values, this blog shows you how to create them.
  4. Am I doing it because I’m trying to please somebody? For in-depth practical help on avoiding unhealthy people pleasing, you can check out my book on the subject here.
  5. Have I carefully considered the trade-offs? Everything we add to our plate means something else has to go.

So the next time you must decide whether or not to develop a new competency or take on something new, let these questions guide your decision making.

What has helped you determine what you should add to your plate?

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4 Simple Decisions that Can Boost Personal Productivity

Our church is growing and as we grow, our staff faces greater demands on their time. So, we must work smarter. Since I’m trying to build a learning culture here at West Park Church, I asked myself, “How can I help our staff work smarter?” I’ve adapted and used the Getting Things Done process for years, but sometimes it seems cumbersome. Recently, however, I discovered insights from a Microsoft employee who wrote the book, Getting Results the Agile Way. (I highly recommend it) It’s a simple process that helps improve personal productivity. I’ve summarized below the 4 simple decisions he suggests that can help boost our productivity. I’m beginning to apply them and they really work.

Production has really picked up since we installed coffee pots.

THE FOUR DECISIONS

  1. Monday vision: every Monday look at your week and determine the top three things you hope to accomplish. Write them down.
  2. Daily Outcomes: every day determine the top three things you want to accomplish. Write them down.
  3. Rule of Three: as you might have guessed it, practice the rule of three. That is, keep your high priority daily and weekly task/project lists to three items.
  4. Friday Reflection: on Friday look at what you accomplished, what you learned, and what you hope to do differently the following week.

This seems so simple that it seems simplistic. But, that’s it’s beauty.

Less is often more. Simple is often better.

 In his book he expands upon these principles, and many more.

Here’s how we’re trying to incorporate this insight thus far.

  • Each week we read 2-3 chapters of the book.
  • When we meet in our weekly staff meeting we discuss our learnings.
  • I created four posters reflecting the four key insights above and as a reminder I taped them to our conference room wall where we meet.

This author is quite unselfish. He offers a 30-day free plan here where he takes one key insight and expands it each day for 30 days.

As I seek to boost my productivity, while keeping healthy margins, I’m reminded that the Bible even tells us to use our time wisely.

  • Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5.16, ESV)
  • So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90.12, ESV)

How can you boost your productivity this week?

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3 Essentials to Resolving Conflict Well

Nobody likes conflict. Yet, it’s inevitable in life. As I’ve served as a pastor for over 30 years sometimes I’ve handled conflict well. Sometimes I’ve not. However, I’ve learned more about how to solve it Biblically from Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a book I’d recommend every ministry leader read. His book is filled with pure gold and I’ve modified below some of his insights with these three essentials necessary to resolving conflict well. I call them the 3-R’s of conflict resolution.

Choose to Resolve or Continue Conflicts - Conflict Resolution

The 3-R’s of Conflict Resolution.

  1. Recognize your autopilot response to conflict.
    • When a pilot flies a jet at high altitude on autopilot, he is passively piloting it. The computers take over with automatic non-thinking responses.  In the same way, when we feel pressured or threatened by another in a conflict, we tend to act on autopilot without even thinking.  Below I list eight F’s that describe unhealthy ways to resolve conflict. In this post I unpack these responses in more detail.
      • Fight-Flee-Freeze-Fuse-Fixate-Fix-Flounder-Feed/ fornicate/ finances
  2. Recast conflict as an opportunity to…
    • ..honor God. 1 Corinthians 10.31 tell us to do everything for God’s glory and honor. Conflict provides a moment in time when we can honor or dishonor Him by our responses. The next time you face conflict, ask yourself if how you plan to respond will honor Him.
    • …help others. Conflict can position us to be God’s healing agent toward another. If we respond well, we can model true grace to the other person.
  3. Realize the ultimate source of conflict: the human heart.
    • James 4.1 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” The word desires is the word we get hedonism from. It’s conflict that comes from our drive to satisfy ourselves at the expense of others. So, ultimately conflict is a heart issue. In the heart of us all is a drive to order our lives around ourselves and to do and get what we want.  It is called sin. So since conflict is ultimately a heart issue, it takes a heart/spiritual solution, the power of the Holy Spirit to change us so that we handle conflict in a redemptive way.

Resolving conflict is never easy, but it’s not impossible.

Whether you are a leader or not, conflict will come your way. When it does, consider the 3 R’s as you seek to resolve it.

What has helped you resolve conflict?

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5 Ways to Respond When Life Throws you a Curveball

Curveballs in life are inevitable. Unexpected surprises can level us or become opportunities to learn. The curveball thrown to Joseph when Mary told him about her “surprise” pregnancy certainly caught Joseph off guard, quite a curveball. But the story in Matthew 1 gives us 5 insights on how to respond when life throws you a curveball.

Curveball Grip

First, a bit of background. Matthew 1 tells us that Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. Unlike engagements today, in New Testaments days when you got engaged it took a divorce to end the engagement. They were both young and looking forward to a long life together and then Mary dropped the bombshell. Not only was she pregnant, but she explained it to Joseph with a story about how the Holy Spirit brought it about, a double whammy for Joseph: his wife was pregnant and she made up some crazy story it was not because of involvement with a man…two curveballs.

Here’s what we can learn from Matthew’s account.

When life throws you a curveball…

  1. Don’t act on impulse by doing what first comes to your mind.
    • In Joseph’s case probably the first thing that came to mind was the normal protocol for adultery in the time, a public divorce. But because he loved Mary, he didn’t want to publicly shame her and mar her chances to marry to a decent guy in the future. Impulse didn’t dictate his decision. Rather, his character did.
    • Principle: Grounded people resist impulsivity. 
  2. Draw upon Christ-centered character.
    • Verse 19 paints Joseph as a righteous man. That meant that he was a good man, a compassionate man, a man of character, a man faithful to God’s commands. Rather than acting on impulse, he acted upon his deeply imbedded values. He decided that a private divorce (much like a settlement out of court) would spare Mary from disgrace.
    • Principle: Christ-formed beliefs should determine our behavior. 
  3. Face, don’t deny your fear, worry, or anger.
    • But before Joseph acted, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife (v 20). The Gospels tell us that God spoke to Joseph four times through angels. God knew that Joseph felt fear so he spoke to Joseph about it. When curveballs hit us, it’s normal to feel anger, fear, anxiety, or worry. Our fight-flight-freeze centers in our brains automatically evoke feelings that we can’t avoid. But denying or stuffing them actually makes them more intense.
    • Principle: We can’t avoid feelings but we can determine their expression. 
  4. Stand upon the bedrock fundamentals of your faith.
    • Until I studied this passage deeply did I realize how it illustrates several core fundamentals of our faith. Focusing our attention on core doctrines gives us hope and confidence when a curveball hits us. Here are four fundamentals:
      1. The Holy Spirit dwells in us to, among other things, comfort us and give us wisdom to wisely respond (v 20).
      2. The virgin birth and the incarnation encourage us that our faith is based upon supernatural, life changing truth (v 23).
      3. Salvation in Christ alone reminds us that Jesus came to a crib to go to a cross to offer us forgiveness of sins (v. 21).
      4. Fulfilled prophecy provides evidence that Jesus was who He says He was (vss 22-23).
    • Principle: Undeniable truth forms the bedrock for Christianity. 
  5. Obey God’s promptings.
    • After the dream Joseph obeyed God and took Mary as his wife. Just as God acted in unconventional ways to bring about Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary, so sometimes we must obey in unconventional ways. Joseph did not take the expected path, divorce. Instead he went against the then current social morays to do the right thing by marrying Mary.
    • Principle: Obedience to God may take you into uncharted territory. 

This Christmas if life throws you a curveball, look to the Story. You’ll find encouragement, hope, and direction.

What would you add to this list of responses to life’s curveballs?

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