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Keys to Your High-Performance Brain with Dr. Jenny Brockis

This Interview originally appeared on How To Be Awesome At Your Job

Dr. Jenny Brockis examines how the brain works and develops and shares how you can boost your brain to higher performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Characteristics of the high-performance brain
  2. Why you should give your brain permission to wander
  3. Key habits for optimal brain performance

About Jenny

As a medical doctor, speaker and author, Dr. Jenny Brockis is passionate about all things ‘brain’. Her mission is to become the Jamie Oliver of cognitive health, empowering others to create their own high performance brain that is optimised to help them work at their best.

She works with those who seek to thrive in our increasingly complex world, by translating the complexities of neuroscience into easily understood strategies that can be readily integrated into our busy lives.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Jenny Brockis Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jenny, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jenny Brockis
It’s a pleasure to be with you here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into so much of the good stuff that is covered in your book, Future Brain, and, boy, it’s thorough, I guess, or so it seems to me. You would know better than I. It seems quite comprehensive on what constitutes a high-performance brain, which is a term you used often. Could you kick us off by saying what do you mean by having a high-performance brain?

Jenny Brockis
It’s really using our brain in the way it was designed for so that we can optimized how well we do our work. And when people sort of start talking about high performance, sometimes I think they get a bit worried, they think, “Oh, you mean I’ve got to be Olympic standard or something like that?” And it’s not that at all. It’s really about recognizing how to work at our own personal best. It’s not about being the best. It’s about just, you know, working to your true potential, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so, I’m curious, like in the literature or the studies or experiments, how do you sort of determine if a brain is a high-performance one or not so much?

Jenny Brockis
That’s a good question. If only there was a little app we can just quickly download just to sort of check in, “How am I going?” And it’s interesting actually because that’s such actually coming quite soon, but I digress. So how do we know if our brains all right? I think it’s just that sense of, I think you know when everything is sort of in place and you feel comfortable and confident that everything is just working out well for you.
And when it isn’t, it’s when you get that sort of frustrating feeling that there’s so much going on and you don’t feel like you’re on top of everything and it’s running away from you, and you’re a bit stressed out, and you just know that you’re not working to your very best, and you know that there’s other things going on that are holding you back.
So really a high-performance brain is all about recognizing what is sort of getting in your way, what obstacles have we got that we’ve got to overcome which may be external or things that we are actually doing ourselves that actually reduce how well we think and operate on a daily basis.
Because my interest is in cognitive health. We talk a lot about physical health, and we know that’s really, really important, and we talk about mental health and, yup, that’s really critical, too. But how often do we investigate the condition of our cognitive health? And cognitive health is really how well we think because it incorporates how we learn and how we remember and how we utilize our mind in our daily activities.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So intriguing, and I know exactly what you’re saying with regard to what’s those days where I feel like I’m kicking butt and I’m on top of things and rocking, and then days where I am not so much. So could you maybe kick us off by sharing some research or studies that kind of highlight some of those connections between great brain health indicators and doing well at a job or cognitive task?

Jenny Brockis
Okay. I guess a lot of research initially, that I looked at, was in the arena of cognitive health associated for the aging process. I mean, I’m an M.D., I’m a medical practitioner so my background was looking after people’s health and wellbeing. And I was particularly interested in addressing some of the issues that people were experiencing as they matured, and noticing that their memory wasn’t quite as sharp as they used to be and sometimes actually developing problems such as Alzheimer’s or different forms of dementia.
So a lot of the research that I started investigating were, “What’s going on in the brain here? Can we learn from this?” And certainly I think the critical concepts that has come of all the neuroscience over the last three or four decades has been the understanding that we have this massively plastic brain. Plasticity implying that’s it’s moldable or malleable so we can literally rewire our neurocircuitry. And because we have these magnificent brain, with these highly-developed frontal lobes which enable us to think about our thinking, we can actually drive this plasticity to our own advantage by our choice of focus.
So although, initially, a lot of the research, as I say, was looking at sort of, “Oh, what’s going on in the brain? Why are we all sort of losing our marbles as we get older?” The realization was, well, of course, it’s looking after the brain across the entire lifespan. So, how we help our kids to maintain better brain health, how we maintain that during our working years is critical, too. So, I think, it’s the understanding that we have this plasticity available to us, and just remembering that we’re human.
I think so often we drive ourselves so hard because we want to do well, we want to do our best, but we sometimes sort of push ourselves and almost in a way that we’re treating ourselves like a machine. And we’re not machines, we’re human. And we have to go back to the basics of remembering we’ve got some physiological requirements.
So better thinking comes from paying better attention to our brain and starting off by addressing those basic things like, you know, how much sleep are we getting, and how much exercise are we doing, how we’re eating, how we’re managing our stress, because all these things, these fundamentals determine how well our brain is setup.
And the studies have shown that, especially if we want to maintain our brains as we get older, the earlier we start to pay attention to our brain’s physiology, or the hardware, the better we are placed to ensure that we are going to have the ability to use our brain in the way that we want it to work for longer as well.
So a lot of the research has looked at what we can do maintain our brain. And I think the exciting studies that have come out, there’s one called the finger study, which sounds a bit strange but it was because it was done in Finland, so it was the Finnish intervention, has clearly identified that better thinking starts with addressing those last choices… the things that we all know about, we’ve been taught, you know, told for years and years and years and years, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that.”
And then in our state of perpetual busyness we don’t prioritize them, we overlook them, or we defer them, or we believe we can do without addressing them. And, of course, we’re essentially shooting ourselves in the foot by doing so.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I want to dig into a little bit about what you said in terms of we’re humans, we’re not robots, and we can drive ourselves too hard. What are some of your findings in the research associated with, “How hard is too hard?” or, “How long is too long?” when it comes to working, thinking, concentrating on a given task? And when it comes to sort of breaks and rests and what’s a good amount of challenge and activity for the brain versus, “We’re going too far.”

Jenny Brockis
Yup, absolutely. Well, the first thing is we’re all unique, we’re all different, so it’s not sort of one rule applies to all. We all have to recognize our own sort of our best, how our brain is designed to help us work at our best. So what works for you may not work best for me. Although we can accept some underlying principles.
And when we say sort of, “How long is too long, or how hard?” the research is clearly indicated that, you know, the way we pay attention, or especially focused attention, relies on us having enough mental energy to use our frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex and our working memory, and this is a highly-energy dependent area of the brain.
And really we’re only designed, from evolutionary terms, to apply our focused attention in short, sharp sprints. So rather than something, “Right, I’ve got a big day ahead of me here. Let’s crank it all up and just dive straight in and just work and work and work and work and work and work.”
Now, there are those times where you get lost in the flow. And isn’t it wonderful when it happens when everything is just swinging along and you get, you lose all sense of time and everything is just falling in place? And that’s great. But the rest of the time, when we’ve got a trillion and one different things to get done during the day, what we tend, sometimes, to do is to think, “Right, just button down the hatches and just keep working hard through all of them continuously until we can tick a few things off our to-do list.”
And that’s actually working against how the brain was designed to work. So if we work hard, if we, I think, just prioritize maybe two or three things, which are the most critical items to be addressed on any given day, highlight those and determine which one you’re going to do first, and then allocate yourself a certain amount of time to spend working on that task. Now, and that’s where it comes back to the individual differences because, and also the individual day, because I’m sure you’ve had your time where, you know, sometimes it’s quite easy to allocate 45 minutes or 90 minutes to a particular task and you just get on with it.
And other times it’s a bit of a struggle to go that long. So it’s about, again, working with your brain and recognizing what’s actually going on inside your skull, and thinking, “Okay, if I’ve been working hard for 45, let’s do an hour. Hmm, it’s probably time to just take a little break,” because we’re exhausting our brain’s energy levels quite quickly. And the temptation is to continue on pushing through, especially if it’s, if you’re nearly there and you think, “Oh, it’s 5:00 o’clock and I really would like to get home on time. So I think if I just push on and do another 20, 30 minutes I’ll get this done.”
Yes, it’s tempting to do that but, in fact, we might be better off to take that short break. Now, how long you take that break for, again, is up to you. Ideally, around 15, 20 minutes. But even if you just a five- to ten-minute break it just gives your mind that time to reboot, refresh and re-energize so that when you come back you’re feeling much more refreshed and able to say, “Right, now I’m ready to nail it and get the work done.”
They’ve shown that, you know, once we’ve worked sort of beyond eight hours a day, by adding on an extra four hours, five hours – I mean, some people work incredibly long hours – we’re actually getting less and less efficient. And that’s why, I think, we’re sometimes seeing different companies around the world now experimenting or trying out shortening working hours.
Now, I guess they’ve also got a different agenda here sometimes, too, because they’re saying, “Well, we don’t want people wasting time. We want them to be sharp and focused, so let’s get everybody doing a six-hour work day and that’s it.” And I think that’s because, you know, they’re saving money, because if you’re not paying people to be there beyond that time obviously that’s an economic decision but it’s not necessarily allowing people to work at their best because unless you give your brain a few little breaks during the day the research shows that, you know, productivity falls, efficiency falls and we’re not doing our best work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. I was going to ask for those very intervals there is some variability, you know, brain to brain. But you’re suggesting that somewhere in the 45- to 60-minute window is about right for our brains designed for sprinting.

Jenny Brockis
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Followed by a 5- to 15-ish minute break to recuperate for the next sprint.

Jenny Brockis
Yeah, that’s right. And people often say, “Well, what shall I be doing?” You know, I say, “Give your brain a break. Give your brain a break. We all need a break.” And they say, “What shall I be doing in that break?” And I say, “Well, anything that doesn’t require a lot of focus because you’ve just been applying that focus very attentively to the particular work you’ve just working on. So now it’s time to pull back, and this the time to maybe get up another stretch, maybe walk to the water cooler, grab a coffee, have a brief conversation with a colleague, but you don’t want to be immediately going on to more heavy focused work.
So sometimes I get asked, “Well, is this the time I should catch up on emails?” And I think, “Uh, well, you could but ideally not, because, for me, dealing with stuff like that is Class B or Class C mental activity but you’re still engaging your brain at that certain level.” So really you’re trying to literally un-couple from your focus just for that brief time. Get up and just go outside for a five-minute break. Do anything that’s different that doesn’t require you to be focused on anything in particular if you can.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So the key then is any number of things might work so long as it’s not an intense piece of mental focus. I guess I’m wondering is there like an opposite of mental focus, like complete mental rejuvenation, scatter non-focus on the pull there?

Jenny Brockis
Yes, there is.

Pete Mockaitis
What is that called? What do we do?

Jenny Brockis
Well, when we go offline, when we sort of, you know, we go into this sort of mind-wandering state, and that’s wonderful especially if your type of work requires a high degree of creativity or novelty where you’ve got to come up with new ideas and stuff. Trying to use your focused attention all the time is counterproductive because you’re only allowing your brain to follow one route. And really we’ve been designed to have two different routes available to us, and this second route is sort of subconscious linkage of making new associations work together.
And to achieve that we need to allow our brain to mind-wander, go off down into that little rabbit hole or something. So taking time out to sometimes think about our thinking. Because mind wandering comes in two different flavors as well. There’s the mind wandering but you’re not really aware of and your minds going all over the place, but you’re not conscious of it.
But we’ve also got this sort of conscious mind-wandering where you actually allow your mind to disappear off but you’re following the trail, if that makes sense, you’re following the breadcrumbs. And that is sometimes really helpful to sometimes go, “Oh.” It helps us to make those new associations and come up with greater insight.
And I think the one thing that we’re often missing in our busy work day is timeout to think. And I think what we can do to help ourselves there is just stop, press the pause button on being so busy all the time and book an appointment. And again it doesn’t have to be really a particular brain break but you might just decide, “Okay, how am I going to setup today? I need to just think about things for a while.”
So press the pause button and shut the door, switch off the mobile phone or switch it to silent just for a moment, and just take that little bit of timeout just to pause, reflect and allow yourself that deeper inward thinking time because that’s the time when we sometimes come up with our insights and reflections on what’s working well, where we need to go, what else we need to do, who we need to be talking to.
So that thinking time is really critical. And if we miss out on it, then we’re just sort of skimming around superficially doing our busy tasks but not necessarily reflecting on how well we’re doing those busy tasks, or allowing ourselves to come up with those new and exciting ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
So if that deeper inward thinking, it’s sounds like it’s, well, I guess it sounds it actually takes some effort as opposed to being, you know, rejuvenating and from a break context. So are you saying those part is different?

Jenny Brockis
Yes, it’s different.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good.

Jenny Brockis
They’re slightly different animals. Yeah, the brain break is really just to take time out just to “Whoo” stop. Whereas the thinking space is that timeout where you’re using your thinking but in a looser less focused way just to pause and reflect and going deeper.
People talk about the need for greater critical thinking, and really we achieve that by stepping back and just sort of contemplating our navel, for want of a better word, just to allow ourselves to sort of we take that deep dive into checking out, “Well, how things are going here at my own track? What else do I need to be doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So to recap, if I’m looking to do some sort of brain rejuvenating in an optimized fashion via conscientious mind-wandering –

Jenny Brockis
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Do I just let my mind do anything at all, like, “Oh, I can see someone through the window right now and she’s got a hair clip, it’s kind of shiny, it’s reflecting”? Is that what I’m doing, just let me do whatever?

Jenny Brockis
I’m not sure that’s terribly useful.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jenny Brockis
But you never know what that hair clip might inspire. It is allowing yourself to take that little break and just sort of stop consciously thinking so hard when we’re giving ourselves a brain break and allow yourself, just your mind to wander off. Lots of people find, I think, that sometimes our best thinking or our best ideas come when we’re not fully focused and we don’t have to be at work to notice when that’s happening.
And I don’t know if this is something that you’ve experienced yourself, but sometimes when we’re exercising, if you’re going for a run, or a jog, or you’re down the gym and you’re just exercising away, your mind is quite busy doing that time. But sometimes it’s actually clearing your mind and it’s really a good time to think, “Ooh, yeah.” All of a sudden that little thought pops into your head and you’d be, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got it. Got it. Got it.”
And if you’re not exercising, sometimes we might be relaxing, just sort of sitting in the park, just quietly, just enjoying the quiet and listening to birds sing and being in a green space or blue space where there’s water around. It’s actually really inspiring and motivating us to help us come up with our greatest ideas at that point, too. Have you ever had that?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, certainly. Thank you, and that’s good. So I just really want to make sure we zero in on if mind-wandering, it’s more so, and maybe, it sounds you’re saying, just not putting a whole lot of effort at all into what my brain is doing.

Jenny Brockis
Yeah. Yes, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so it might drip over to the hair clip, but I need not ponder the hair clip. I just say, “I notice that, then I notice something else, and then I notice something else. Then it’s fine.”

Jenny Brockis
Absolutely. And it’s the art of noticing. I think we’re living in a world where we’ve become so intent on filling every nook and cranny of our waking days, sort of looking at something but not necessarily noticing what else is going on around us. And I’m talking here about, you know, our engagement with our technology. As soon as we finish doing a particular task we’re often checking out emails, updating our news feeds and things like that, and we’re constantly engaged with screen time.
And, unfortunately, that sometimes means that we’re not getting the bigger picture that’s around us. So I think taking time out to notice what’s going on in our environment is really, really important. And we do that by putting everything down and moving away from it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. So now we talked about the break time well. Now you’ve actually delineated 12 factors that impact brain health. So, we don’t have time to hit all 12, but maybe could you share with us, of these, which one or two or three do you think can give us the most brain performance boost per, I guess, unit of effort that we have to exert to get it? And so, what are like the no-brainer absolute – right, no brainer.

Jenny Brockis
Okay. Okay. All right. Well, number one I guess would be being sufficiently physically active during our day. We know that exercise is good for our body, it’s incredibly important for our brain’s function as well. And a lot of research has indicated that too much sitting is actually very detrimental to our bodies and our brains, too. And research from Mayo Clinic sort of related it and said, “Sitting is the new smoking,” which is terrible. It’s not good for brains.
Because when we’re sitting for long periods of time obviously the blood flow towards the brain is being compromised, you’re not getting the same level of blood for delivering the oxygen and the nutrients that the brain needs. And so we’d be stagnating essentially in our thinking skills. So sitting for too long, especially, is particularly unproductive. And I think the message about the need for greater physical activity is starting to really permeate and be more broadly accepted in the workplace, which is great.
I mean, the type of work we now do obviously has changed enormously over the last few decades. And, of course, that’s contributed to why we’re sitting so much more. So it’s making a conscious choice to say, “Am I physically active enough in my working day?”
Now, I’m sure you’ve probably heard, you know, the need for 10,000 steps, and a lot of people use these fitness trackers too. “Am I moving enough?” And while aerobic activity is the gold standard for priming the brain for better performance, and aerobic being huffy-puffy let’s get the heart rate up so you’re breathing at rate up and things like that. While 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity is what, we say, primes the brain, if you do the exercise, especially early in the morning that gets your brain ready to work better for you during the day.
It’s what you do during the rest of the day that also counts. And what’s really helpful is now the understanding that all physical activity contributes to this. So while some people, you know, gym junkies, they love exercises, it’s not an issue for the, a lot of people, you know, they’re time poor, they’ve got difficult schedules, getting out and doing the exercises is a challenge for many people, they don’t like it, they’re allergic to Lycra or whatever. It’s understanding that just standing up helps to improve your level of attention and alertness.
So stand up for your brain. And that’s why we now see the introduction of these variable height desks.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m using one right now talking to you.

Jenny Brockis
Hey, wonderful. Wonderful.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m standing. I’m standing for this one. Last one I wasn’t, to be honest.

Jenny Brockis
Yeah, there you go. Because it changes so much, it changes how well we breathe, it changes how well we think. And people find it easier to concentrate when they’re standing. But, you know, standing for prolong periods isn’t necessarily good either. Some people get back aches. And that’s why the variability is so useful so you can sit for some time and stand for the rest, and it works perfectly. So it’s what works best for you.
But also looking for opportunities just to move around more. So standing meetings have become increasingly popular. It’s great for making meetings actually more useful because so many people hate meetings because they just think, “Oh, a complete waste of time.”
So stand up meeting, nobody wants to stand around for too long, so it keeps the meeting nice and short, everybody’s paying better attention. And if you’ve got an agenda worked out, hopefully you can make the meeting work for you.
And a lot of people tell me that walking meetings are now being introduced more often, too. And that’s useful if you’re having a one-on-one where you need to have a deeper more meaningful conversation with the person. Getting together and then going for a walk, grabbing a coffee if need be, and just having a chat has been shown to really enhance what you get out of that conversation. So standing in a meeting, walking in a meeting, all these things are helpful, choosing to look for the opportunities to stand up more for our brain.
And it could be while you’re on the phone, while you’re on a conference call, while you’re doing a podcast, all these things. It’s about taking the opportunity to stand and move more during the day. And so that is the number one tip.
The second one is to get more sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jenny Brockis
We are in such a sleep-deprived state so much of the time. A lot of people have forgotten what it’s like to have a good night’s sleep. People are perpetually tired. And we think that, you know, people have got so much to do so the temptation is to stay up late to do a bit more work, or to get up early, get into the office nice and early so we can do more work there. Work, work, work, work, work. And so we’re shaving off time when we could be at home resting and asleep.
And why do we spend a third of our lives asleep? Because what the research tells us is the critical time for consolidating all those long-term memories that our brain wants to keep for the longer term, it’s important for dipping our understanding all the information we’ve been taking in, it’s critical for emotional regulation. And I don’t know if you’ve – have you got children, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about my mom. When I was in a mood as a child that was her go-to. It’s just like, “When was the last time you ate? And how much food have you had?”

Jenny Brockis
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So if we’re sleep-deprived we’re a bit cranky, we’re a bit irritable and we’re certainly not thinking our best, and the first thing that goes is our ability to pay attention, our concentration, our ability to learn information and retain it for longer starts to finish. It’s been shown that if we are consistently getting sort of less than sort of five, five and a half hours of sleep every night, we’re not only building this chronic sleep debt, as it’s called, our brain starts to do weird and wonderful things.
We start to create false memories, and that could be rather tricky. This is where you think you’ve done something, or completed something, or sent off an email, but you haven’t. Your brain has created these false stories that you believe are true. So sleep deprivation can start to do weird things to us, and it’s also been shown to really much up our entire system.
There’s a lot of very interesting research looking at the effect of working shifts. And there are an awful lot of people around the world who are employed and they work nights. So they work quite complicated shifts so they’re working at different times, and it’s working against our circadian clock and causing a bit of mischief there. So getting enough sleep is important. And how much sleep do you need? Well, again, it’s an individual thing. The average person requires seven to eight hours.
So if you’re consistently getting less than six you’re cutting yourself short. And I know a lot of people in our busy work days will often, during the week, not get enough sleep and then try to catch up on the weekend. But it’s not always easy to repay that sleep debt adequately by just a couple of nights on the weekend. And, of course, if you’re going to bed at a different time, that, again, mucks up your, what they call your sleep hygiene habits and can contribute to poor sleep patterns.
I think being too busy makes it harder to go to sleep. And so many people say, “Jenny, I’m so tired and all I want to do is just crawl into bed and go to sleep.” And as soon as their head hits the pillow, it’s the brain sort of going, “Oh, good. Party time,” and then starts thinking about all these things that we haven’t completed, thinking about properly during our day. And this is where exercise and taking proper brain breaks during the day can actually really help us to get better quality, less interrupted form of sleep. So sleep is really important.
And the last little thing about why we need sleep is it’s the time when we take out the brain’s trash. Now, you know, it’s important to de-clutter, get rid of the rubbish, and sleep is the time when we have these beautiful system setup in our brain where when we’re lying on our side, the spaces in between our neurons open up. They’re called lymphatics, and we get this sort of slushing of cerebral spinal fluid, slushing through, hosing out all the metabolic wastes that builds up during the day so that we wake up in the morning with a nice clean brain.
And one of the researches I was reading some papers on described it like the filter in a fish tank. If we don’t keep our filters clean in our fish tank then the fish tend to die. So if we think of our brain requiring sleep in the same way we need to sleep because it’s the filtering process that’s required to keep our brain really healthy in a tip-top shape.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And I want to follow up with that phrase you used time poor. I enjoyed in your book, you mentioned a point that really resonated, how if you feel as though there’s more stuff to do than you have the sort of time and availability and resources to do – which is I think maybe a ubiquitous state of mind for many people – then that in and of itself is detrimental to your brain’s performance. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?

Jenny Brockis
It’s really that it adds to our existing stress levels. Stress is a normal part of life and brains, but if we’re getting the sense of time poverty and we’ve got this drive, is inner drive, “We’ve got to get it. We’ve got to get it. We’ve got to get it,” it’s just adding to that stress. And that stress elevates and we start to diminish how well we think because our limbic system in the brain becomes hyperactive and the amygdala that’s associated with that starts to generate more intense negative feelings, particularly fear or anxiety.
And as the level of intensity of those emotions rises our ability to access that lovely prefrontal cortex, our executive suite of higher level thinking, you know, logic, thinking, analysis, reasoning, etcetera, becomes reduced. And it’s a bit like if you get into an argument with somebody, you know that if you’re having an argument, and you’re going, “Tit-tat, tit-tat, tit-tat,” and the emotions are rising, and you’re going, “Ooh, ooh, ooh, somebody is going to explode in a minute,” all of a sudden when they do, and they lose it, they’re being driven entirely by that emotion, and their ability to access their prefrontal cortex is gone or lost temporarily.
And it occurs, too, like if we’re in a stressful situation, like we’re about to go and sit for an exam where you’ve done all the prep, you’ve done all the study for it, and you go in and you sit there, you turn the paper over, and you think, “Oh, my mind has gone blank. I can’t think of a single thing.” And it’s because you’ve got that degree of stress which sort of reduce your capacity to think at that particular point in time.
So when we’re under time pressure, especially, that just adds to our stress so we become more emotionally driven and less able to access our prefrontal cortex. So it’s about knowing how to regulate that.
And, interestingly, the more we engage with our technology the greater that sense of time poverty. It’s a bit weird. But when we engage with our technology it does actually speed up how fast our brain is working, and that’s probably quite helpful, but it also adds to this sense of time poverty. So if you’re feeling time, on the pump all the time, just take – going back to the breaks again- just move away from the screen, just for a little bit of a time, because it actually helps to restore that sense of how much time is really available to us, and enable us to then think, “Okay, maybe I have got a lot to do in this certain timeframe here. What’s the best strategy to get this done?” Rather than going into a blind panic and not being able to sort of to cope with it as well. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yes. Thank you.

Jenny Brockis
Oh, good.

Pete Mockaitis
And so I’m curious, in the world of stress and your studies, have you discovered a number of really just powerful sort of stress-busting approaches?

Jenny Brockis
I think one of the biggest stress-busting approaches is to choose to un-come from our focus, you know, take time out just to stop thinking so hard all day long. And the other thing which is becoming increasingly popular is to become more mindful, where you’re – and this is harking back to that noticing more, taking in the bigger picture of things because it keeps things in better perspective for us.
When we get sort of mired down, and all this stuff going on, and problems and challenges – my daughter calls these first world problems and she rolls her eyes at me, and says, “Mom, first world problem,” when I’m complaining about something, and I think, “Ooh, she’s quite right.” And you step back and you just think, “Okay, let’s get real here, how this important this all is. How can I sort of re-adjust how I perceive these items?”
If we treat everything as important and urgent then it becomes a complete mess. It’s really about sort of stepping back and saying, “What is appropriate here?” And developing that skillset to be more mindful of just noticing what’s appropriate at this given moment is really liberating. And a lot of people now practice mindfulness meditation as it’s called, or different forms of meditation. And I think this is not a panacea, but if you’re into exploring it and giving it a go it can be a fantastic way just to quiet down and still that noisy mind that we work with the rest of the time just to –
It’s about sort of clearing the brain fog, that’s how I see it. It’s just taking that time out just to allow things to go still, because then, all of a sudden, you can see, you regain that clarity of thought rather than getting caught up in that state of perpetual busyness.
I know Steve Jobs, the late Steve Jobs was a meditator. He meditated for 45 minutes every single day, and he’s quoted as saying, you know, “When you still your mind you can see things so much more clearly.” Now, and I think a lot of other business leaders and CEOs have found the same thing. As I say, it’s not a panacea, it’s not for everyone, or everybody likes meditation, and I don’t think it should be forced on people if they’re not into it. But I think it’s finding what works for you to allow your mind to quiet down.
So if it’s mindfulness meditation so you’re in the present moment so you’re not worrying about what might happen in the future, or what’s already happened in the past, that can be enormously powerful. And mindfulness meditation and different forms of meditation have been explored by the research and it’s really quite extraordinary the benefits that this practice imbues on our cognitive health and wellbeing.
It not only helps reduce stress, it hones our attention, it enables us to be more, regain our imagination, be more creative. It helps us with our sleep patterns. It influences down to the levels of our chromosomes so then it enhances our physical wellbeing. We don’t get sick as often. We recover from illness more readily. We cope better with pain. I mean, you know, the benefits of this type of practice are almost embarrassing because the list is getting longer and longer and longer.
So it’s really about knowing how to quieten down your mind, and using whichever strategy you like or enjoy, and sometimes it’s about having a smorgasbord or a couple of different things to choose from which you engage on a regular basis. It’s about making this part and parcel of your daily schedule to get the best benefit from it.
So for people who practice mindfulness, for example, I mean, some people will do a 45-minute practice, and good on them, but for other people that’s too much time, they can’t allocate. But 10 minutes has been shown to have a positive impact. And we all have 10 minutes out of our day. We all have 10 minutes, so.
It’s what works for you and deciding what you’re willing to have a go at and putting in the practice to make it, create the habit, because once it’s a habit it becomes an automated behavior. You don’t have to think about it, it’s just something that you do as part of keeping your brain really in tip-top shape so that you can bring your best self to work and your life every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, Jenny. So tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure that you cover off before we shift gears into the fast phase?

Jenny Brockis
There’s probably a lot we can talk about, but I’m pretty happy to leave it there, except to maybe mention mental flexibility and changeability because I think what I’m hearing a lot about in my work, in helping people in the workplace today is managing the huge amount of change that we’re experiencing as a society and in the workplace at all. And this is leading some people to feel a bit overwhelmed and a bit fearful, and I think it’s important to recognize that, yes, things are changing fast but we do have this amazingly plastic brain that is changing in response to what we are experiencing.
And rather than being fearful of it, if we can step back and adopt the mindset of it’s normal to experience a little bit of angst, a little bit of, “Ooh, I’m not so sure about this,” and then to be curious about it, and to explore it, because then, that, allows us to engage in, “Ooh, this is actually quite exciting. Maybe this can really make a difference. Maybe I can do things differently. Maybe this is an opportunity to get better at what I do in this particular task.” So it opens us up to boost our performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you.

Jenny Brockis
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now, could you tell us about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jenny Brockis
Favorite quotes. Oh, I think one of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou, where she talks about the fact that it’s not what we do or say. It’s how we make people feel that makes the biggest difference to us. That’s one of my favorite quotes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Jenny Brockis
I don’t think I said it quite right either anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s all good. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research in all your work?

Jenny Brockis
I think one of my favorite studies, just because it’s a big quirky and a bit different, and it was the response of the people involved in it that made me smile, was the work by Gloria Mark. Now she looks a lot at the impact of technology and engagement in the workplace. And she did a study where she forced people to not use their technology for something like five days. And the resistance that she met, people were saying, “What? You can’t expect us to do that. This is going to be terrible.”
Anyway, they did eventually comply. And what was interesting was at the end of the five days, people felt better, their blood pressure dropped, they felt far less stressed, and productivity had gone up. And, for me, that’s a favorite piece because it’s, again, a reminder that we are human. And if we allow ourselves, just remind ourselves from time to time that this is normal, to take a break, to disengage from all our technologies and just relax and do other things, that actually we perform better. We do better overall. Yeah, so that’s one of my favorites. It’s a small study but it’s one of my favorites.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jenny Brockis
Oh, favorite book. I think the one book that really started me off on my journey into finding out more about neuroscience was Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself. I thought that was such an amazing book, and it’s a book that I’ve read several times and I’ll probably read again and again, because, to me, that just sort of highlighted the fact that we do have this remarkable organ, the human brain, that is capable of so much. And we’re really only just starting to scratch the surface of understanding of what we’re truly capable of.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, whether that’s a product or service or app or thought framework that helps you be more awesome at your job?

Jenny Brockis
For me it’s my mindfulness app. As a doctor I was very good at telling other people what to do, and I’m not so good at doing myself. It wasn’t until I actually went off and did what’s called the MBSR course, which is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course that was pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn back in the ‘70s that I really realized the impact that mindfulness could hatch on helping me be a better person in what I do and how well I think.
So, for me, today my app that I use on a daily basis to enable me to engage in my mindfulness practice is the critical tool, for me. This is called Headspace.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, got you.

Jenny Brockis
It was put together by Andy Puddicombe. He’s got this marvelous English accent, so I just love listening to his voice. And I think with any app, especially if you’re listening to a guided meditation you’ve got to like the person’s voice. But I can just listen to him forever.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite habit, or is meditation as well?

Jenny Brockis
No, it’s not actually. It’s being outside and going for a walk with our two dogs. That, for me, is something I look forward to on a daily basis. It gets me outside. We live in a beautiful spot close to the sea, but we’ve also got beautiful trees around us as well, and it just makes me feel good. I love that. That’s my sort of half an hour, 45 minutes of bliss.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite sort of nugget, a quote, something that you’d share that really seems to resonate with people in terms of getting a nod in their heads and taking notes and saying, “Yes, you’re brilliant?”

Jenny Brockis
Oh, I wish. I wish. It’s not really a quote. Well, when I talk about give your brain a break, and I think sometimes that’s often in relation to mono-tasking and things like that, so avoiding multitasking, because we’re asking our brain to do something it wasn’t designed for. So I think, yeah, just give your brain a break is one of my favorite quotes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And what would you say is the best place if folks want to learn more, see what you’re up to, or get in touch with you? Where would you point them?

Jenny Brockis
Straight to the website which is simply DrJennyBrockis.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent. Thank you. And you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue for us to folks seeking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Jenny Brockis
I think it’s all about looking for what’s next and curious and standing up for your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, this has been so much fun. I really appreciate you taking the time and digging into some of the research behind the common sense and putting more of a point to it. This has been a treat and I just wish you tons of luck in all your work.

Jenny Brockis
Thank you so much, Pete. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.

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