3 Simple Brain Boosts for a Healthy Brain

Pastors and leaders need healthy brains to lead well. A healthy brain helps us become more resilient, be more present for those we lead, think more clearly, and, well, lead better. Neuroscientists can peer into our brains and are learning what makes them tick and how we can take better care of them. Here are 3 simple brain boosts anybody can practice.

3 Simple Brain Boosts for a Healthy Brain.

  1. Fertilize your brain with your brain’s Miracle-Gro. The brain’s Miracle-Gro chemical, BDNF, short for brain derived neurotrophic factor, literally fertilizes your brain. It promotes growth of brain cells and strengthens their connections. One of the best ways to boost this chemical is by exercising. So, get on your bike or put on your running shoes and walk, jog, or bike three to four times a week. Your brain will love it. More here and here about exercise and the brain.
  2. Improve your memory by getting some extra sleep. We live in a sleep deprived world. The latest figures say indicate that 35% of the population gets 7 hours of sleep or less. And we actually need more like eight. In fact, Dr. Daniel Gartenberg, one of the world’s most renowned sleep expert says that 8.5 hours is now the new 8 hours. A good night’s sleep helps the brain discard unneeded information and solidify those memories we need to store, a process called consolidation. So, start going to bed 30 minutes earlier. Your brain will love that too. Take this quiz to find out if you are sleep deprived.
  3. Calm your emotions with mindful breaks throughout the day. Ancient monks practiced something called statio. It was a mini-pause between one task and the next. It served as a transition to leave what they were doing and mentally and spiritually prepare for the next task. Today it’s called mindfulness, a practice that helps us be fully present in the moment and calm our anxious emotions. My next book comes out in March and it deals with mindfulness from a Christian perspective. More about that in the months ahead. You can learn more about mindfulness here. Again, your brain will love it.

So, pick one of these and try it out next week.

 

Take the Gratefulness Test to Find out how Grateful you are

The Bible says a lot about gratefulness. Answer these six questions to rank how grateful you are.
Gratefulness Test:
  1. Do you say “thank you” less than once a day or 2-3 times a day?
  2. Do you often spend time wishing/dreaming that things would be different or do you often thank God even in difficult circumstances?
  3. Do you often find fault with others or do you express a resilient, forgiving spirit, and grace filled spirit?
  4. Are most of the words that come out of your mouth critical/negative or positive/affirming?
  5. Do you have a demanding spirit, more often looking to others to meet your needs or do you look for ways to meet other’s needs?
  6. Do you blame others for your problems or do you easily take ownership of your problems?
The Psalmist often speaks about a thankful heart. We as leaders must do our best to model a attitude of gratitude for those we serve.
Psalm 69:30, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 95:2, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.”

Psalm 100:4, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”

What has helped you develop a thankful spirit?

Related Posts: 8 Indispensable Qualities Every Leader Needs

5 Essentials Google Discovered that Create Effective Teams

Google is ubiquitous. As the largest search engine, it has become a common term in our vernacular as, just ‘Google it.’ A couple of years ago Google assigned a team to discover ingredients for effective teams. Five key learnings surfaced from that study. In this post I’ve summarized them with a key question for each because they apply to ministry teams as well as to workplace teams.

Key ingredients that create effective teams.

  1. Impact: Team members believe that their work really matters.
  2. Meaning: Team members view their work as personally important to them.
  3. Structure and Clarity: Team members understand clearly their roles, plans, and goals.
  4. Dependability: Team members meet Google’s high bar of excellence including on-time delivery of projects.
  5. Psychological safety: Team members feel safe enough with fellow team members that they are willing to risk and be vulnerable with each other.

Which one do you believe was the most important quality? If you picked psychological safety, you were right. Although all were important, feeling safe with fellow team members mattered the most.

As I thought about that, it makes sense. Psychological safety seems to be the most interpersonal ingredient. If a job only entails spending time in front of a computer all day on a project that requires not interface interaction with others, it probably wouldn’t matter as much. But interpersonal relationships profoundly affect our emotional health and our spiritual health. That’s why the Bible talks so much about healthy relationships.

Here are key questions to ask yourself about each of these qualities as it relates to the teams you lead.

  1. Impact: When was the last time you asked your team members if they felt their work/ministry really mattered?
  2. Meaning: When was the last time you communicated to a team member how important their role and ministry was?
  3. Structure/clarity: Does each team member have a clearly stated job description and goals for the year that you co-created with them?
  4. Dependability: How well do you model excellence and the attributes you hope they will emulate?
  5. Safety: On a scale of 1-10, how safe do you think your team feels with you? This assessment is an excellent way to discover how safe your team feels.

Next week, pick one of these qualities and take 30 minutes to evaluate what you can do to improve that area.

Related posts:

  • What pastors should look for in safe people
  • 6 Ways to Build Community in your Team

How Chronic Stress Affects Leadership

Our brains play a vital role in effective leadership (duh!). That’s pretty self-evident. Yet, this often overlooked brain fact profoundly reduces leadership effectiveness – chronic stress diminishes your ability to lead because of how it affects your brain. In this post I list five ways chronic stress does that. Whether you’re a pastor or a business leader, effective leaders understand how their brains affect their roles. In my next post I’ll provide some solutions to these problems.

Chronic stress affects leadership in these ways.

  1. It amplifies fear and anxiety.
    • Chronic stress leaves the stress hormone, cortisol, in your body and brain for extended periods of time (as well as imbalancing brain chemicals called neurotransmitters). As a result it keeps the brain’s fight-flight center (the amygdala) on high alert which turns up the dial for fear and anxiety and leaves it there. Fearful leaders don’t lead well. 
  2. It gives you a ‘shorter fuse.’
    • Parts of our brain compete for energy and other resources it needs to work effectively. When the amygdala stays on high alert, it hogs those resources and our brain’s ‘thinker’ (the front part called the pre-frontal cortex) has less of those resources available to pause and reflect before reacting. Leaders who react make dicy situations even worse.
  3. It impairs good decision making.
    • Reduced resources for our brain’s ‘thinker’ also affects our ability to think clearly necessary to make wise, thoughtful decisions. The thinker can literally go ‘off-line’ in stressful situations when a leader has been under chronic stress for a long time. Leaders who don’t make good decisions can hinder their churches’ or organizations’ ability to reach their goals.
  4. It diminishes memory.
    • A key part of the brain involved in turning short term memories into long term memories is called the hippocampus. Chronic stress actually shrinks this part of the brain which makes us more forgetful. Leaders who forget important information or commitments they made to others can lose trust from those they lead.
  5. It decreases motivation.
    • A fundamental way brain cells talk to each other is through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Chronic stress creates an imbalance of these important chemicals which can lead to depression, listlessness, and decreased motivation. Unmotivated leaders struggle to lead their churches or organizations forward.

So, chronic stress hurts the brain which impairs our leadership.

In my next post I’ll offer some practical suggestions on how to deal with chronic stress.

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Rejection: How to Keep Other People from Feeling It

I blew my knee out, but that wasn’t what hurt the most. I was left alone and felt rejection. Pain is a given in life. And usually when we think of pain we’re only thinking about physical pain. But social pain is just as real and perhaps more hurtful. In this post I share what recent neuroscience has learned about social pain and some practical tips how pastors and leaders can avoid multiplying social pain in others.

In college I could run fast. I had joined a college flag football team and I was their deep threat. I could outrun most of the other defenders. During one game the quarterback had me run what is called a down and out. I was to run ten yards and take a quick pivot to the right. He would then pass the ball to me.

We lined up. I took off. I planted my left foot. I turned around and caught the ball and something in my knee exploded. I crumpled to the ground in agonizing pain. The team had to carry me off the field to the sidelines. I was out of the game but after a few minutes I was able to hobble around, still in considerable pain.

When the game ended, all my teammates left. The field where we played was a mile from my dorm room and I didn’t have a car. Nobody asked me how I was doing. Nobody offered me a ride. It took an hour to hobble back to my dorm room. The next week I learned that I had blown out my knee which later required surgery.

As I write this, I don’t feel the physical pain from the injury. But I still can feel a tinge of rejection I felt that day when no one showed me any concern. I’m not angry at the guys. I can simply feel some of the pain of rejection I felt then.

It’s a brain thing. Neuroscientists have discovered that our brain records social pain, like rejection, in the same place  in our brain where we feel physical pain. In other words, getting rejected really hurts just like physical pain really hurts. That day I got a double whammy.

Across multiple languages we even use words to describe social pain that we typically use to describe physical pain like, “she broke my heart,” or he “hurt my feelings.” Disapproving facial expressions can even create social pain, especially those most prone to feeling hurt from rejection.

So what can we do as leaders to avoid unintentionally hurting others? I suggest three tips.

  1. Help your church be more aware of those who are alone on Sundays. Often before a service you can easily spot those who are sitting alone. The same is true after church for those who stand alone in the lobby or in your café. Encourage your regulars to look for people who are alone. And when they see someone alone, encourage them to introduce themselves to the person and genuinely seek to make them feel welcome.
  2. Be careful with your facial expressions. Be aware that our facial expressions often communicate more than our actual words. Studies show that even looking at disapproving faces can evoke social pain. Without being fake, don’t bring your ‘poker’ face to church. Bring your kind and pleasant one. If you’ve not sure what kind of face you usually bring, ask someone who is close to you to observe you interacting with others to give you feedback
  3. Finally, teach your church about the brain. Help them understand how our brain impacts community, spiritual growth, and leadership. For a primer on the brain in layman’s terms, check out my most recent book called Brain-Savvy Leaders. And watch for my next one coming out early 2019 (Moody Press) on an ancient spiritual practice called mindfulness.

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