Take a tech vacation

Happy couple relaxing on deck chair at the beach

The ever-present technology in our lives can be very bad for the brain. The constant flow of email, text, social streams and cat videos prevents us from engaging on a more potent, meaningful level. It also elevates our cortisol and adrenaline levels in an unhealthy way. It starts a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, training our brain to be unfocused.

In today’s world most of us won’t be able to permanently ditch our phones and laptops. But we can take a vacation. For a full vacation, go at least one day without technology. For a mini-vacation, go a half-day or an hour without technology.

Notice how many times you have the urge to check on email, text or any other app. Also notice how much easier it is to accomplish non-tech related projects. It’s not the technology itself that hurts us. It’s the number of information streams we keep open at once. You can take a mini-tech holiday while drafting an important email just by turning off alerts on all of your devices. Use this new perspective to remember to take tech vacations all the time and unlock a new level of focus.

What are you really passionate about?

golf course man

Not sure? Imagine you’re completely exhausted. What thing could you still find the energy to talk about even then? Politics? Sports? Gardening? Whatever it is you could use more of it in your life.

Being involved with something you love is great for the brain. It sets off the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that controls how we feel about life. In other words, it makes you happy. Having a regular hobby can aid focus, enhance your creativity, boost self-esteem and much more.

Being defined only by your job, or other life circumstances will make you crazy. It can lead to anxiety, depression and many other unpleasant things. Even if you only set aside a few minutes a day for your ‘thing’ it will make a difference you can feel.

It’s the little things

happy friends

The first and most important thing in creating a healthy environment for the brain is eliminating threat.  Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.  Hosts of studies show the benefits of positive thinking and there are many ways to accomplish this:

  • Write down five everyday, ordinary, simple gifts you are grateful for – birds chirping in the morning, a convenient parking spot, school books scattered on the table, children’s laughter in the kitchen, just enough milk for breakfast, work that has purpose.
  • Read scripture or meditate – find tools to help you find Bible passages on positive thinking or find a mantra for happiness.
  • If all else fails search for happy YouTube videos – do you see those babies talking to each other?!?!

Now take one of these things and put it somewhere you will see it.  Put a picture of your happy place on your computer desktop or phone screensaver.  Record yourself reading a favorite passage and make an alarm on your phone with it.  Or make an inspirational video the default landing page in your web browser.  No go forth with positivity!

Can your best be better?

businesswoman dressed as a superhero

We all have strengths. We all have weaknesses. It’s easy and common for us to over-emphasize them both outsized in our minds, thinking our strengths are greater than they really are and our weaknesses are much worse than they really are. Today we’re going to tackle our strengths, specifically making those strengths stronger – for real.

So, right now, list your three greatest strengths. These strengths may be skills, abilities, or interests. But, seriously, grab a pen. Write it right now. Waiting…good.

Now, for each strength identified, list three to five practical ways to fuel and grow. Consider traditional learning such as classes and books, reaching out to people for mentoring and coaching, and finding an experience to apply the strength. Keep the other Cranium bullets in mind as you do so:

  • be creative
  • make sure it’s relevant
  • involve tangible action
  • remember the power of novelty
  • incorporate interaction with others
  • use the emotions that drive you
  • try and connect it so several of you multiple intelligences

Good luck!  You can do this.  Just follow through.  Schedule something right now!

Don’t write about your feelings

Keyboard with white Enter button, angry word on it

We’re talking about email and texting. Go ahead and journal to your heart’s content but for communication to others this is a no-no. First, it’s always good to have extra time to wrap our head around our emotions before interacting. We’ve all hammered out one of those messages in all caps and it universally doesn’t make any outcome better. Second, and more important, we lose access to our non-verbal cues: body language and vocal tone.

We’ve all heard some variation of ‘90% of communication is non-verbal.’ Whether or not the exact number is true non-verbals are highly important. Imagine your boss looks over and asks, “what are you doing?” Was the brow furrowed or was the tone chipper and upbeat? It makes all of the difference.

When tempted to express emotion, communicate voice-to-voice or face-to-face. Email and texting are for information and not emotion. Write this reminder and post somewhere visible such as on the computer monitor, your wallpaper, or a screensaver. If you’re embarrassed about putting this somewhere other people will see, such as your office, don’t use words. Make an angry face with a line through it or buy a “mean people suck” sticker.  Whatever it takes.

Give a little back today

Kids washing the dishes in the kitchen

So often it feels like we come back to Kindergarten lessons (keep your hands to yourself). I don’t know that it’s that our pace of life is so much faster. I doubt homesteaders on the prairie had shorter days than us. Perhaps it’s all of the electronic distractions (email, apps, texting, etc.) that keeps us from remembering to do the little things. Today, let’s get back to basics and just help someone important to us.

We’ve all heard that you’ve got to give in order to receive. Identify someone important to you. Ask this person to tell you three ways you can help him or her: empty the trash, change the printer cartridges, set up a room, wash the car, feed the dog, lead a meeting, copy materials.

We are all leaders whether we’re marshaling a sales force, leading by example or just herding children. One of the best ways to compliance and cooperation is to give back. They’ll feel seen and heard and loyal. Those little favors you do today aren’t just money in the future favor bank collecting interest for a rainy day. Acts of service are one of the main languages by which we let others know that they are cared for.

The Magic Words

Thank you

Saying “thank you” can change someone’s day from bad to good. We constantly have opportunities to thank others. It’s a change to put the spotlight on someone and let them feel appreciated. It’s often overlooked as a motivation tool but it’s a powerful one.

Saying thank you inspires loyalty, boosts productivity and is contagious. Not everyone who gets a “thank you” is graceful about it so make sure you are truly grateful and don’t expect anything in return. If you say thank you, don’t mean it and get the wrong reaction you’re likely not to handle it well and create a bigger problem. So here’s a foolproof plan.

Hand write your thank you notes. Put in a recurring reminder to write one thank you every Monday morning. Handwritten notes are almost usually perceived as sincere since there’s no tone in your voice to get confused. You’ll get to go about your day with the high of having done something nice and not having had to worry about the face-to-face reaction. Win-win!

Move a little, change a lot


All too often we forget how important it is to move.  Movement activates all kinds of important systems in our bodies and minds that make us feel better and more productive.  It’s almost like cheating.  Tired, stuck, bored, unproductive? Move! Go for a walk instead of meeting at a desk.  Park farther away in the morning and do breathing exercises that oxygenate your brain during the extra time.  Small changes can produce big results.

Movement causes our body to release endorphins, our feel-good hormones. Moving boosts our metabolism which gives us more energy and help us power through long tasks or the afternoon doldrums.  Moving during other tasks, like doing air squats during a phone call, improves neural connectivity since it multiple parts of our brain are engaged and cooperating.

Don’t try and do all of this at once though.  It takes 21 days to form a new habit.  So pick ONE and put it on a sticky note.  Go a step farther and draw a little 21-day calendar on your sticky and check off each time day you are successful.  Watch those checks turn into a chain.

You’re a miracle

Blue pink star systems

We’re all miracles.  The chances of you being born are 1 in 102,685,000.  Thats a 10 with 2,685,000 zeros after it!  It may sound like a kindergarten pep-talk but we get some of our most important lessons in kindergarten (don’t hit!).  Your particular combination of skills and knowledge is important, but are you using them?

A Gallup poll recently revealed a small percentage of people have the opportunity to do what they do best everyday at work. How much more valuable would you be at work if you did a little more of the things you’re best at?  What would that value lead to? A raise? A promotion? More respect?

Perhaps right now you can’t imagine how you could do your job any better or how you could devote more time to your work.  The truth is we all have stretches of unproductive time at work.  Next time you’re checking Facebook or talking at the water cooler devote just ten minutes of that unproductive time to taking on a little more responsibility.  Volunteer to fix that thing that’s not your responsibility but you know how to handle perfectly.  If it doesn’t work out you’ve still proven you’re a go-getter.  If it does work out you’ll feel great and that shot of energy can cascade.  You might be so happy you’ll want to skip around like a kindergartener!

Be the lion tamer

lionImagine a full-grown lion charging towards you and how you feel.  The same hormones course through your veins when you are communicating with someone who feels threatened emotionally.  Maybe they feel unsupported, unheard or just have low blood-sugar.  It doesn’t matter.  From a biochemical perspective you might as well be that lion.

Against every instinct in your body, don’t argue with that person.  Don’t give advice.  Listen as intently as you possibly can.  Go ahead and ask a question if there is a genuine opening, but tread lightly.  Asking leading questions is only going to make it worse.  If your question starts with “don’t you think….” or “aren’t you….” there’s a good chance you’re leading.  Questions like that imply that you know something they don’t.

You might know something they don’t see yet but they need to discover it on their own.  You might not even understand as much as you think.  We need a safe, non-threatening environment to incorporate new ideas and perspectives.  Why do you think we have so many gaps in our memory after confrontation?  Our brains aren’t working so don’t push the issue until the blood pressure drops, yours and theirs.  Remember, you’re a lion right now.  Become a kitten, or at least a house cat, and you’ll get much better results.