In our corporate culture today there is a lot of everyday stress that can limit our abilities: deadlines, demanding clients, market changes, office politics. It all adds up. And it doesn’t just make us feel worse at work; it limits our mental abilities in all areas of life. In the field of cognitive performance, we aim to help individuals to understand better how their brain works, and how reactions to stress and traumatic situations can impact their optimal brain function.
What is Cognitive Performance?
High cognitive performance or ‘peak performance’ is when you are using your brainpower to its full potential. Understanding how you think and process information, emotions, and memories enable you to have enhanced memory, processing speed, and better-quality decision-making.
This area of your brain that is responsible for our cognition is sometimes referred to as the ‘executive brain’ or ‘executive function’, and it enables higher-level thinking abilities such as:
- reasoning or problem solving
- mental manipulation of ideas
- thinking before acting
- managing novel information
- dealing with an unanticipated challenge
- inhibiting and resisting temptations
- staying focused during difficult tasks
On the flip side, when we are stressed or overloaded, our ability to call upon our working memory be hindered.
The good news is that the practice of science-based cognitive performance techniques allows you to stop negative rumination, meaning you can overcome worries, feelings of fear, anger, frustration, or overwhelm.
MRIf neuroscience studies have shown that our prefrontal cortex the main processing center of our executive brain. Expert research work performed in the field of neuroscience points to the tight relationship between working memory, our executive brain processes, and our thinking abilities.
Practical ways to improve these critical abilities include training people in neurocoaching strategies and practicing mindfulness to reduce mental fatigue so they are more alert, creative, and present.
Understanding the Executive Brain
The executive brain functions is a set of mental skills that most people take for granted. It includes working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. These cognitive behaviors develop quickly in early childhood and continue into the teen years and keep developing into the mid-20s.
We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage our daily lives. However, when trauma or too much stress overwhelms us, we can have problems with executive brain function.
If you have ever had a very stressful day and noticed how hard it is to focus or make clear decisions, that is because your executive functions in your brain are becoming limited.
People who suffer physical or mental trauma can sometimes have prolonged issues with their cognitive performance, which can make it hard for them to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions.
What Limits Our Cognitive Performance?
Not knowing how your brain works, the different parts, and the ways that the brain functions will impair your ability to improve your cognitive performance.
Although no two brains are the same, there are essential functions that can be better managed when we understand the brain.
Of course, the personal experiences of each person will affect how we address the demands of our surroundings. A better understanding of the brain’s systems can help us to adapt to situations and the changes we experience.
If we don’t understand how the brain works, and how to use it, this can lead to a lack of self-management skills which can show up in several ways, including:
- Trouble starting or completing tasks
- Difficulty prioritizing tasks
- Forgetting what was just heard or read
- Have trouble following directions or a sequence of steps
- Panicking when rules or routines change
- Having trouble switching focus from one task to another
- Getting overly emotional or fixating on things
- Having trouble organizing their thoughts
- Having trouble keeping track of their belongings
- Having trouble managing their time
Typically, these kinds of behaviors due to habits reinforce our brain’s response of flight or fright mechanism, which activates our amygdala to triggering the release of chemical reaction, which makes you more easily stressed. Over time, we are not aware of our responses, and we become stuck, stressed, and overwhelmed.
How Can You Improve Cognitive Performance?
There are many brain tools and activities that can help to enhance your cognitive performance, both at work and in your personal life. Some common cognitive performance enhancers include:
- Physical Activity
- Being Open to New Experiences
- Creativity and Being Curious
- Strong Social Connections
- Mindfulness and Meditation
- Brain Training Games
- High-Quality Sleep
These types of practices will lead to more brain balance, and enable better recovery from traumatic situations.
Working with a cognitive performance coach (sometimes called a NeuroCoach) can also be a great way to customize your approach and to enhance your abilities.
If you have experienced a trauma of any kind, it may be that your cognitive function is somehow limited as a result. A cognitive performance coach can help you identify and move past these issues and gain better brain function.
Cognitive-Performance Brain Tip:
List your top 3 items that must be done today. Do the most difficult one first, followed by the second, and third. At the end of the day, recall and savor all of the successes!
Interested in learning more about cognitive performance for you, or your team? Bernadette Wilson is the founder and coach of Cognitive Performance. She specializes in professional optimization, personal and team transformation, and helping people find inspiration and happiness in their work, with their loved ones, and in their lives. Reach out today to see how Bernadette can help you.
Tanaka, (2015), Effects of Mental Fatigue on Brain Activity and Cognitive Performance: A Magnetoencephalography Study, Anatomy & Physiology: Current Research, 5:S4
Garcia-Madruga, (2016), Executive Functions and the Improvement of Thinking Abilities: The Intervention in Reading Comprehension, Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 7