Use water to make yourself smarter

Holding water in cupped hands

CRANIUM Point: Challenge not threat
Create a safe environment where challenge is maximized and threat is minimized – intentionally.

The most common roadblock to a healthy brain environment is threat.  You can never remove all possibility of others around you from acting out or pointing anger at you.  Plan B is to keep your brain nimble and ready to respond in a positive, productive and, even, empathic way. IN other words, o combat threat, it is important that your brain stays alert.

One practical to way keep your brain ready is to stay hydrated. Did you know your brain is approximately 80% water? Avoid unhealthy drinks, and set a goal to drink eight, 8-ounces of water each day.  On hot days you may even need two or three times that.

Good old H2O helps us lose weight, keeps our skin smooth, lubricates our joints, and has even been associated with cardiovascular health.  Add cognition to that list.  Being dehydrated often leaves us feeling sluggish but a recent study seems to also point to improved reaction times, better memory and more. In the British study test takers improved there scores by drinking water.

It’s a numbers game

CRANIUM Point: Multiple Intelligences not a narrow view of smart
Value the multiple intelligences all individuals bring to the team.


I hope you’re not one of those people who says, “I’m not good with numbers,” or “math isn’t my thing.”  That sort of deflating self-talk is not healthy and not true.  There’s a million number of ways of being ‘good with numbers.’  Your strength with numbers in paying bills, creating forecasts and spreadsheets, developing a budget, estimating costs.

Build on your strength with numbers by doing more of what you are confident in. Being good with balancing your checkbook, for example, could make your budget easier to manage.  You might be good with spreadsheets and by learning some new techniques you could generate profit and loss statements to make up for the stress of having to forecast and allocate resources.

The larger point is to that having a weakness in one area is never a good reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Your strengths can more than make up for your weaknesses.

How to build trust with transparency

CRANIUM Point: Using emotions not ignoring emotions
Capitalize on emotional intelligence by putting to practical use the power of the emotional brain.


Integrity is another way of saying that your actions broadly align with your values.  It’s what you do while no one is looking.  When our actions, beliefs or thoughts are out of alignment with those values we usually have an indicator and it’s usually emotional.  It may be a bad feeling you have internally or a negative response from others.  Today take a minute to reflect on those things you may do that others might complain about and see if you find some truth.

We’re going to do this alone because it can be soooo much easier to be honest when ourselves when we are not faced with someone else’s disapproval.  Our own disapproval of ourselves is usually more than enough.

Transparency brings consistency and trust. It means being the same even when no one is looking. Reflect on what areas of your life may be inconsistent. Identify ways to build transparency and utilize resources to help you follow through and be accountable.  Tell someone who may be affected by your discovery in a positive way and let them know that you are working on it.  That will build some serious trust.

How to lead effectively by delegating effectively

CRANIUM Point: Interaction not micromanagement
Honor team input. Leverage others experience. Gain loyalty through allowing a choice and a voice.

Delegate.  It can be a euphemism for bossing others around or shirking responsibility.  It can also be a powerful tool for building trust and broadening others’ skill sets.  Effective leaders see delegating as an opportunity to develop others. They delegate intentionally and purposefully by matching tasks with others’ interests.

You can just pick any number a project, meeting, task, or responsibility to delegate and assign someone with an interest in the job.  That last clause is very important, find someone with an interest.  If you don’t you’re just a manager, not a leader.  If you don’t you’re losing the opportunity to help someone feel more empowered, more valuable and more loyal.

Another great thing to do is actively seek people ready for new responsibility simply by asking them.  Ask them if they have any skills you might not know about, if there is anything they think they could improve that they’re not currently responsible for.  Even if you don’t discover anything new about this person right away you’re planting a seed.  By letting them know that you are supportive of their growth you aren’t just making them feel better.  In the future they’ll be more likely to be on the look out for ways they can step up.

Mix it up to get more out of your meeting



CRANIUM Point: Novelty not boring routine
Do the unexpected. Seek and reward innovation. Celebrate veering from conventional methods.

Meetings are often the biggest waste of time.  Right?!?!  But meetings themselves are not the culprit.  It’s because everyone goes in expecting it to be unproductive.  After all, you know what so-and-so is going to say about the proposal because she says the same thing about every proposal.  You-know-who will be late and unprepared and blame it on something with his kids.

Novelty is the best recipe for a meeting of just about any kind: lunch dates, classes, dinner with the family.  The brain is more engaged when information and situations are unique and different. Before a meeting or a class, have attendees respond to a novel prompt. Here are some ideas in ascending order of novelty:

  • share their favorite ice cream flavor
  • stand if they had a good night’s sleep (incorporating action is a bonus)
  • high five if they are ready for the day (ditto)
  • show who can roll their tongue
  • do 5 minutes of glitter art on paper plates
  • have everyone make goofy faces
  • show their best dance move (everyone at once works best)

Are you feeling fully rested?

six o clock am

CRANIUM Point: Action not overload
Purposefully balance work and life. Cheaper, better, and faster isn’t always best for the human brain.

You need more sleep.  Blah,blah, blah.  You’ve heard it before….you know it’s true….annnnd….you still have a long list of reasons why you can’t get more sleep.  I’m not going to harp on all of the health benefits.  We are going to just point out that no matter your excuse(s) you can improve your sleep hygiene.

So, how much sleep are you getting? On average, the human brain needs eight hours of sleep time. Make a deliberate effort to increase your sleep time.  Remember that small changes can reap big benefits.  Pick one of the following and stick to it for 21 days:

  • Set your alarm to go to bed.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends.
  • Develop a bedtime a ritual for relaxation
  • Turn all unnecessary lights an hour before bedtime
  • Don’t look at your phone/tablet/laptop in bed
  • Eliminate distracting noises or turn on a fan for white noise
  • Keep pets out of your bed
  • Keep your bedroom cold, below 68 at least
  • Get a new, comfy mattress, sheets, comforter or pillows
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine and heavy meals at least 4 hours before bed
  • Get some bright light every morning to establish your circadian rhythm
  • Listen to a guided sleep meditation
  • Exercise daily but not too close to bedtime

Make your project less complex

Finding a Solution

CRANIUM Point: Relevance not meaningless work
Communicate how each job fits into a larger mission. Ensure the fit of each job to the team.

When it comes to multi-step tasks the trick isn’t adding stuff, it’s taking them away. We often end up doing repetitive or unnecessary steps because that’s the way we’ve always done it or because someone told us to do it that way and we never questioned it. Today let’s try and sharpen up the process for a complex item you have outstanding.

Find an item on your to-do list that requires several steps. Spend five minutes brain storming ways to improve that process and then try one out. Not only will you potentially save yourself time in the long-run, you can get a head start on it now. Here are some ideas that could help:

  • Document all parts of the project in one location either on paper, on a computer or in the cloud.
  • Think about the end goal and eliminate steps that don’t directly lead to it.
  • Can you delegate any of the steps?
  • Can some steps be done concurrently instead of sequentially?
  • Could training of some kind eliminate steps?

Create a positive environment with appreciation

White frangipani flower

CRANIUM Point: Challenge not threat
Create a safe environment where challenge is maximized and threat is minimized – intentionally.

Often times in a positive environment it just feels good.  We tend to think about the people or in the environment itself as ‘nice’ and we leave it at that.  If we look closer, though, more often than not we discover the specific underlying cause of the ‘good feeling’ is knowing you’re appreciated there.

Show your heartfelt appreciation to someone. Include specifics about what you appreciate, when you have seen this demonstrated, and how you and others have personally benefitted.  The more details, the better.

Remember to put your heart into it.  Don’t just say thank you for x, y and z.  Really conjure the feeling of appreciation and let your non-verbals light up their mirror neurons.

When can assumptions be helpful?

Angry man screaming in phone

CRANIUM Point: Using emotions not ignoring emotions
Capitalize on emotional intelligence by putting to practical use the power of the emotional brain.

Let’s face it.  We all have difficult people in our lives. We know what to expect of them and it’s generally not much. At the same time its always possible to do better in any situation. Even an Olympic gold-medalist could shave another second or score one more time. So it’s certainly true that we could always do better when we deal with that guy (or gal).

In this situation we usually focus on trying to limit contact, to moderate our responses or even to try understand them better.  Sometimes, though, we must set the table first. What would happen if we took the radical step of assuming the best of intentions on behalf of those troublesome individuals?  You know, fake it ’til you make it.

Identify a person or situation that is presently challenging you or causing you to feel conflicted. Rather than assuming the worst, assume the best. “Assume good intent” when working with this person or in this situation. You may not discover that this person or situation is actually wonderful and amazing but there is a strong chance that you’ll see possibilities you didn’t before.

Do you get enough feedback?

gold star

CRANIUM Point: Interaction not micromanagement
Honor team input. Leverage others experience. Gain loyalty through allowing a choice and a voice.

You’re not a mindreader and neither is your team.  There are many things you could be doing better but you might not know what they are if you don’t ask.  People withhold constructive criticism for many reasons but usually to spare your feelings or theirs.  This is a barrier to progress that must be constantly whittled down.

It takes time to build a culture of constructive feedback, both positive and negative.  Since this can be a sensitive area start small and in the safest way possible.  Begin with two or three people whom you trust and be the feedback guinea pig.  Ask each to describe how your behavior has impacted them in the last day or week. Ask each to tell you one thing they would like for you to continue and one thing they would like for you to stop.

A little preparation will go a long way to make this outreach successful.  Be prepared for a little sting; the feedback might hurt your feelings.  Have a canned response ready in mind for this situation such as:

  • “thanks, I’ll think about that” or,
  • “that’s interesting, I’ll think about that,” or even
  • “okay, I’ll think about that.”

Do you see a pattern here? Even if your non-verbals tell them you’re seething inside you’re at least giving them a verbal cue that you’ve got the message and that the ball is in your court.  You can always come back and finish up if your blood is running a little hot in the moment.  You haven’t made any commitments or said anything defensive.  All you’ve done is acknowledge the feedback, a good thing, and promise to ponder it, also a good thing.

If you want to go a step further do a quick training on nonviolent communication.  There’s a load of psychological reasons for this specific method but, in general, if you just follow the basic steps it can really take the edge off an otherwise difficult conversation:

  • Observe: Just say what happened, “I heard you say _____,” or, “I saw you do _____,” are solid examples.
  • Feeling: Say how it felt, “When that happen I felt _____.”
  • Need: Now transform the feeling into what you need, “I felt _____ because I need _____.”
  • Request: Make that need a formal request to the other person, ” Will you please do _____ for me.”

With a little bit of practice these four steps can be magical.  There are many more resources available at the fabulously helpful Center for Nonviolent Communication.