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Burnout Protection; 3-minute exercise to regain vitality

Posted in: October 2, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Burnout Protection; Try this evidence-based, 3-minute exercise to quickly bring back your vitality —

Overcome Burnout

Work-related burnout has become a major problem throughout the world, and it is especially prevalent among health-care practitioners and entrepreneurs. But what are the most effective ways to prevent and recover from this debilitating situation that has been shown to compromise the cognitive and emotional processes in the brain? Offering evidence-based exercises to enhance personal and professional development has many advantages over the “common-sense” advice featured in popular books and blogs. In fact, an untested strategy that is based on a sound scientific theory is far more likely to be more effective than strategies based on personal (anecdotal) experience.

Take a Break!

Extensive research has demonstrated the consciousness-and-decision-making processes of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and we know from many supportive studies that the longer you stay focused on achieving goals without taking relaxation and pleasure breaks, the more your work quality and performance will decline. Other studies show that excessive stress and burnout is correlated with decreased activity in the empathy/intuition/social-brain circuit, especially in the parietal and anterior cingulate regions. However, our brain-scan studies of meditators, coupled with the extensive research on stress reduction, strongly suggest how specific relaxation and mindfulness studies can be used to alter stress-related activity throughout the brain.

So here is a strategy to protect yourself from burnout and to heal yourself from work-related stress, based on the study above and other peer-reviewed brain-scan experiments:

  1. The fastest way is to take relaxation break and to fully immerse yourself in any pleasurable activity for 1-3 minutes.

Burnout is caused by too much focusing on achieving goals for extended periods of time. You need to turn down activity in the concentration center of your brain (the DLPC) several times an hour to allow your glial cells to dispose of the stress-related byproducts generated by the neurons in this area.  The most effective way to give your DLPF a rest is to enter a trance-like daydreaming state. Research shows that repeating the word “OM” may be the fastest way to do this (other sounds don’t appear to work!) [i].

  1. Feeling burnt-out?

One of the symptoms is a lack of empathy or interest in social interactions [i]. Research shows that doing compassion meditations (sending yourself love, nurturing kind thoughts for others, immersing yourself in feelings of gratitude, etc.) will increase activity in the parietal/anterior cingulate circuits that regulate empathy, compassion, and self-love.

  1. Feeling highly irritable?

This too is a symptom of burn-out, and it is correlated with excessive activity and volume in the amygdala and a thinning of the neocortex[i]. Research with Zen meditators (where the “OM” meditation is often used) shows decreased activity/volume in the amygdala and a thickening of the neocortex that controls the majority of our cognitive functions.

Let’s put all these pieces together

Thanks to the neurological power of your imagination to recreate negative memories from the past, you can experience the benefits of this “Burnout Protection” exercise right now. Close your eyes and recall one of the most stressful times you’ve experienced in the last couple of weeks. Allow yourself to feel the tiredness, the frustration, and the emotional exhaustion. Now begin to slowly – VERY SLOWLY – stroke the palms of your hand and your arms in the most pleasurable way possible (you want to cover one inch in 2-4 seconds…that’s what’s required to stimulate the pleasure nerves in this part of your body).

Now take a very slow deep breath in through your mouth, and as you slowly exhale, make the sound of “oooohhhhmmmm,” drawing it out as long as you comfortably can. The “oh” sound will come out first, and as you slowly close your mouth, the “mmm” sound will vibrate your lips. When the sound fades away, take another slow deep breath through your mouth. As you repeat this OM meditation, pay close attention to every nuance of the experience: the resonant sound, the sensations in your chest, throat, and face, and the tonal qualities as you say OM sound in different ways. See if you can actually lose yourself in the sounds and sensations of OM. Go as long as you like, and when your intuition tells you to stop, sit quietly for a few more minutes observing your feelings and thoughts.

Finally, repeat this compassion meditation phrase: “May I be happy, may I be well, may I be filled with love and peace.” Feel free to alter this phrase in any way that you’d like. Immerse yourself in the experience for as long as you like, and then sit quietly, noticing how calm and relaxed you feel. When you go back to concentrating on a specific goal or task, you’ll feel less stress and your productivity and performance will increase. And if we put you into an fMRI scanner as you do this, we are 90% certain that you’ll see the types of neurological changes described in this blog!


[*]Mark R. Waldman, Author of NeuroWisdom, The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness, and Success

[i] Neurohemodynamic correlate of ‘OM’ chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Kalyani BG, Venkatasubramanian G, Arasappa R, Rao NP, Kalmady SV, Behere RV, Rao H, Vasudev MK, Gangadhar BN. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jan;4(1):3-6.

[ii] Can we predict burnout severity from empathy-related brain activity? Tei S, Becker C, Kawada R, Fujino J, Jankowski KF, Sugihara G, Murai T, Takahashi H. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Jun 3;4:e393.

[iii] Structural changes of the brain in relation to occupational stress. Savic I. Cereb Cortex. 2015 Jun;25(6):1554-64.

Mindfulness Benefit at Work and in Life

Posted in: September 27, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
Mindfulness at Work and in Life

Mindfulness practice, in business and in life, is the application of mindfulness in how we approach our job, colleagues, customers, employer, and family over the course of our day. When we bring mindfulness to whatever we are doing, we begin to learn how to integrate a positive behavioral mindset into our daily life. We act in a mindful state and engage in “compassionate communication.”

Neuroscience-enabled, contemplative mindfulness practice over time leads to dispositional mindfulness – which is a way to be constantly mindful, at least to some extent.
Mindfulness in practice
Neuroscience has discovered that—as with physical exercise—very short bouts of mindfulness practices, repeated throughout the day, provide the same (or even greater) benefits as long sessions. There truly is no mandate that you must meditate for more than 20 minutes at a time. You can achieve comparable results by purposefully bringing mindfulness to activities throughout your workday.
To put this into practice, I recommend integrating “seconds of mindfulness” throughout the day. Even ten seconds of mindful awareness will make a difference. Taking a mindful moment at any time of day lets us take a breather, come out of our worrying mind, and reconnect with what’s real within and around us.
How can we create the tenacity to adopt a mindful mind and instill new behavior?

The simplest way to apply mindfulness is to deliver full moment-to-moment attention to a task with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time our attention wanders away, gently bring it back. It is similar to the sitting meditation, with one change: the focus of our energy is on the task at hand rather than the breath or a mantra.

3 Easy Mindfulness Techniques

1. Have a mindfulness collaborator

Exercising alone is hard enough. Choose an accountability partner and have at least one conversation weekly to check in. Mindfully review the following questions:When do I practice mindfulness most effectively during my day?How have I integrated mindfulness into my daily work life?What effect do I have on others whilst practicing mindfulness?

2. Do less than you can

If 5 minutes of mindfulness feels like a burden, then only do it for 3 or 4 minutes. If every twenty minutes is too much, then do it every sixty or ninety minutes. The aim is to find a practice that feels pleasurable.

3. Take one mindful breath every hour

Commit to conscious breathing at least once an hour; everything else is a bonus. Preserve the momentum of your practice. When you feel you are ready for implement this breathing methodology you can do so with more ease each time you practice. The practice encourages you to generate an intention to do be centered and opens up our mind to simple acts of self-care.
Implement these 3 mindful and compassionate leadership principles to throughout your day to enhance your performance and find greater fulfillment at work – and at home.

Cognitive Reframing: A tool to mitigate Workplace Stress

Posted in: July 9, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Stress in the workplace can emanate from a multitude of factors. The precise etiology of workplace stress can be difficult to pinpoint due to the complexity and diversity of modern organizations. However, when left unchecked, stress can affect employee performance, team interactions, and the overall success of an organization. Numerous reports have documented the physical and mental health hazards resulting from chronic stress.

Benefits of Cognitive Reframing

One of the most successful approaches to circumventing the highly toxic stress conditions that can manifest in the workplace is “cognitive reframing.”

This technique helps individuals cognitive performance by: 

1) recognizing the stress for what it is (an emotional response to real or imagined factors); 

2) better understanding the natural ways our brains can turn situations into destructive thinking processes or positive opportunities; 

3) teaching us systems to realign our interpretation of circumstances (Cognitive reframing), allowing us to take charge of events rather than merely responding emotionally, and hence; 

4) seeing the world and events as they are; and 

5) increasing the accuracy of our response and the likelihood of success. 

Examining the Stress Response

One of the foundational elements of cognitive reframing is first understanding why and how humans react the way we do.  The human body is designed to respond to any form of stress with emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, and psychological “fight or flight” reactions. These automatic responses have had evolutionary survival benefits when stressors were encountered in the wild; however, in the modern workplace these responses are less helpful.  Indeed, one might be surprised by the extensive list of harmful responses to stress that can occur in the workplace, essentially wreaking havoc with team dynamics, and creating a dysfunctional work environment.  

Stress Distortion as a Coping Mechanism

Recognizing that stress can be based on a perception of a condition, and is not necessarily based on logic or the actual details of the situation is a first step in being able to reframe a situation or event.  The human brain continues to astound in its abilities and functions; however, part of its most basic purpose is survival. The resulting outcome can take the form of cognitive distortions in a stressful situation. Some of the most common distortions may be recognizable when correlated in a work environment:

  • Filtering to focus on only one negative portion of a situation.
  • Thinking in a polarized manner so that it’s believed something is all bad or all good.
  • Overgeneralizing by using a single event or incident to create an overly broad conclusion.
  • A “jump to conclusion” attitude based on an individual situation or behavior.
  • Minimizing or magnifying a situation or condition.
  • Looking at a situation from a purely emotional standpoint.
  • Catastrophe assumption that there has been a disaster.
  • Blaming others for all aspects of outcomes. 

Work-Related Stress Has a Cost

Companies of all sizes have been known to downplay the importance of stress in the workplace. Management may take the philosophy that stress is just part of business today, refuse to accept that a condition is stressful, or worse yet, get rid of the staff members trying to bring attention to unhealthy problems even when they might have solutions. details some sobering facts about work-related stress:

  • 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress
  • US businesses lose up to $300 billion yearly as a result of workplace stress.
  • Stress causes around one million workers to miss work every day.
  • Only 43% of US employees think their employers care about their work-life balance.
  • Depression costs $51 billion due to absenteeism and $26 billion in treatment costs annually.
  • Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.

Cognitive Reframing Helps to Rectify Distortions

Understanding the value of cognitive reframing begins by recognizing that our brains may use certain distorted methods of perception that may not be entirely healthy in the modern workplace. In addition, unconscious attitudes can turn a favorable situation into something perceived as negative simply by focusing on it too much. In essence, it’s “thinking gone wrong,” and when allowed to continue unfettered, destructive thoughts can spiral into highly stressful conditions. Distorted thinking can be irrational and unhelpful, and in the workplace, the behaviors and attitudes can negatively affect everyone’s success. 

Therapists implement cognitive reframing techniques to assist people in identifying the unhealthy mindsets that may come naturally and put them to better use with more positive attitudes. This approach is used with overly optimistic and overly pessimistic individuals, as both extremes can cause stress when expected results are not attained. 

Cognitive Reframing in the Workplace

Using cognitive reframing in the workplace allows one to develop and utilize a healthy life skill on the job, and in so doing will interpret situations with greater clarity and experience interactions with enhanced insight and nuance. Cognitive reframing empowers an individual to examine where the positive or negative thoughts exist so that they can control their response and act thoughtfully, rather than allowing old habits to persist. Mastering the art of cognitive reframing does take time and focus; however, using it as a tool can shift the thinking process so that there is more beneficial life impact and overall work-life satisfaction. 

Trust at Work Promotes Better Performance and Customer Service

Posted in: June 29, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Business leaders have come to understand that trust in the workplace is a critical key for overall success. Many organizations profess work cultures which value trust and inclusivity in their marketing jargon by using the nomenclature such as “transparency” and “open door policy” to entice new staff and encourage existing employees.

However, trust is a result of developed cognitive abilities that foster loyalty and high performance, yet, when lost, can cause catastrophic conditions within the business environment. Creating a framework of trust between teams through a mindful training program supports clarity in communication and offers other benefits in a cascading effect. When an employee gains cognitive tools to become more self-aware, their new behavior permeates multiple levels within a company. Their positive attitudes bring rewards in their interaction with co-workers and in customer service scenarios. The importance of developing a culture that supports methods to build trust at work requires business leaders to maintain an open mindset that fosters healthy interactions. Implementing behavioral tools to increase trust to support the many daily decisions and work requirements by employees should be considered by leaders.  

Trust Equates to Confidence

When employees see their workplace as one where leaders value integrity, honesty, and equity they view the company one where they can invest in. These ideologies are an intangible base of respect that has value in social development of teams and for the individual. Without trust, there is suspicion, doubt, and distrust that permeates a business’s ecosystem. When a company works to establish and maintain trust, employees feel confident in what management conveys to them, and they, in turn, pass that attitude to customers and clients. Creating a “trust culture” has become a top focus in the business world. Organizations with their fingers on the pulse of good internal morale know that trust is a motivator that can inspire excellence.

Trust is Personal and Customer Concentric

Customers often view trust as a personal and intimate experience. They want to feel as if they can believe the promises presented by a front-line employee are stated with honesty, and that a company will stand by them for the long term. Employees who go the “extra mile” by over-delivering and are cognitive of their impact on the customer relationship ensure a beneficial connection between the customer and company.  This bond is an emotional connection established by the employee’s wiliness to meet the customer’s needs, thus opening doors for satisfaction for both the customer and the company.  

Trust at Work Inspires Financial Gain

The concept of trust is in a company is an organizational, economic driver as well. Proof of this is in the Forbes “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, where “trust” is used for two-thirds of the criteria in judgment. Both customers and potential employees view the list as a gold standard, and it comes as no surprise that the businesses on the list are above “the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.” The research that Forbes uses demonstrates that “trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces.”

Trust Across America is an advocacy group whose research and work tracks the performance and actions of some of the most trustworthy public companies in the U.S. Their studies have shown that high-trust companies “are more than 2 ½ times more likely to be high performing revenue organizations” than what is referred to as the low-trust companies.

Reputation: Beyond the Bottom Line

The statement that employees are the most valuable asset of a company stands true, and it goes hand-in-hand with another adage that “trust is earned and not given.” Staff members are the face, voice, and attitude of a company, and when their confidence is at a high level, they can expand the reputation of an organization to new heights. Trust is a leading factor for everyone in a business, and for those working with clients, a trusting attitude can increase the bond and add to the company’s stature.

Employees in an organization that they trust will often take personal ownership of the company’s culture development. In an environment of trust, their interactions and work product positively affect their confidence and communication abilities. They hold a unique sense of pride and dignity in working in an environment known for internal trust, encouraging employment longevity, and attracting like-minded applicants. Staff members with a favorable view of the business they work for can have increased performance and extend a perspective of excellence in customer interaction.



Bringing Mindful Communication Skills to Work

Posted in: May 19, 2021 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
Mindful Communication_Blog

A consistent mindfulness practice has been shown to improve relationships through greater empathy and compassion — suggesting mindfulness training has numerous benefits for the workplace environment, where clear communication, high cognitive performance, and compassionate leadership skills are in high demand.   

So, how does mindfulness help us recognize and understand communication cues and help to overcome challenging conversation barriers? How can mindful conversations provide us with an avenue for better self-awareness and become more compassionate and empathic leaders? 

To answer these critical questions, let’s first look at why communication is instinctual, then review introductory concepts of brain function which are integral to avoiding conflict and resolving it once encountered, followed by a more detailed explanation of how a mindful practice can significant improvement our communications at work.  

The Communication Connection is a Basic Human Need

How we interact and communicate in life and at work has meaning – we can’t escape this fact. We are social beings, and learning new and better ways to engage and communicate with others fosters our well-being and growth and that of our collective tribe and society as a whole.

The process of communication between humans is partly learned and partly instinctual. Our brain’s neuropathways formation that fosters communication predates prehistoric illustrations on cave walls to grunts and body language. It provides a connection with the world around us and internally, negative or positive. 

Our past learned social behaviors to control our anger and anxiety, and immediate environmental and emotional factors preceding and during communication, will impact our ability to articulate. Along with what body language we deploy and our tone (volume, pitch, and word choice/emphasis) will all affect our message’s quality (precision of succinctness). Similarly, these factors will affect the receiver’s ability to comprehend and understand our true meaning.

In addition to communicating for safety, security, coordination of mutual efforts (working together or avoiding conflict), communication also serves as a form of connectedness between humans. As we learn the art of communication through mindful practice, we gain a more profound sense of self-awareness, purpose and our relationship with others is enhanced.

Our Expressions Communicates More than Words

Recently, we have all felt the intense pressure of Covid-19’s direct impact on our daily lives. We’ve all made adjustments and strived to do our best to adapt to our changing world. Many employees have had to learn new ways to do their job effectively, such as remote work and continual video meetings, and gain skills to adapt quickly by learning new ways to foster communication with employees and customers.  Gaining the knowledge that we have an innate ability to understand other’s emotions through facial expressions and inflections in our voice will help us become better communicators. Studies suggest that 93% of our communication is visual and auditory; the art of reading facial expressions and the use of tone of voice has never been more vital to our success as communicators.

How Stress Dampens Clear Communication

Whether it’s work-related stress, family conflict, or constantly worrying about life, modern-day struggles and hardships activate the same fight or flight responses in the brain. We can tolerate stress for brief durations; in fact, some thrive on the increased sense of energy and drive resulting from the release of stress hormones (“Adrenaline Rush”).  

However, suppose we are exposed to stressful conditions (or situations) for prolonged periods. In that case, our body goes into a defense mode due to the release of other hormones, including cortisol, which can impair the immune system, cause sleep disturbances, and sub-optimal cognitive performance. Indeed, prolonged cortisol can lead to fogginess and impaired function of the executive brain (the part we need for complex problem solving and creative thought).

Cortisol can be viewed as nature’s built-in alarm system. During brief episodes of stress, the cortisol provides resilience by increasing blood sugar for anticipated increased metabolic needs and decreasing inflammation with vigorous exercise (fight or flight).

These favorable adaptions to overcome acute stressors are augmented by the other stress factors, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine, increasing the strength of the heart and skeletal muscle contractions and the blood pressure needed for exercise (as would occur with fight or flight). In contrast, with chronic stress, the prolonged elevated cortisol levels begin to manifest the deleterious effects mentioned above (impaired sleep, immunity, and cognitive function), high blood pressure, weight gain, irritability, fatigue, and anxiety depression, along with other mental health concerns.

A Mindful Practice Offers Protection Against Stress

An essential practice for protecting ourselves from unnecessary stress is to approach as many of our daily interactions as possible mindfully. In this context, “mindful” relates to “being self-aware” and also prepared for the input of discordant factors, and working to stay fully engaged and aware of your feelings so you do not slip into react (fight or flight) mode.

For example, if during an interaction with a colleague you SEE with your eyes an angry facial gesture, such as snarl, and/or HEAR with your ears, words spoken in a loud angry tone by this individual, the unprepared (non-mindful) response would be to react in a fight or flight way. This fight or flight response is hardwired into our Central Nervous System (CNS), and plays a vital role in a genuine threat. Interestingly, brains process this information and return a response in fractions of a second, using neurochemical messengers for you to get out of danger or retaliate.

Routinely Practicing Mindfulness We Naturally Become Better Communicators

A mindful approach to this situation requires self-awareness (checking in on how we are feeling) and assessing the full situation, including what might be causing the individual to be expressing angry gestures and words. Staying present (self-aware) requires the use of the executive brain (frontal lobes), and dramatically increases the likelihood of avoiding strong emotions that can cloud our thinking. Using a mindful technique allows us to become far better communicators (better listeners and more articulate speakers). Our brains, in essence, can be controlled through a consistent mindful practice so that the reflexive (fight or flight) pathway is subdued and the executive function stays in control, allowing our exchanges to be poised, intelligent, and mindful.  

(Note, the brain can be triggered to go down the fight or flight pathway following a stressful memory and be perceived as just as profound of a threat as the real thing when patients suffer from PTSD.)  

Mindfulness Provides an Avenue for self-awareness

Here is where mindful skills can help in communication. Through practice, one develops a sense of clarity, concentration, equanimity, self-awareness, and self-knowledge. Through practice, you will begin to notice you have the choice to respond or not and respond with compassion rather than with tough emotional reactions such as anger or frustration. Through practice, the observance, and untangling of emotion, one can experience the interaction with equanimity fostering internal growth and awareness.

Mindful disciplines regard emotions as “impermanence.” Emotions by nature are quick and fleeting; they are not permanent. For example, when if you are fully engaged in watching a movie – you can be laughing and feeling joy in one instance, fearful in the next, and then irritated. Your emotions rise and resend without conscious effort or work.

When an emotion is continuous over the course of the day, it is considered a mood. If it is a negative habitual and acute, compounded negative emotions can lead to depression and severely affect our mental health.  

In our mindful practice, we allow ourselves to observe, release or focus on the emotions; as we do so, we let go of our control the emotion that arises, and note is emergence and passing. Through steady practice, we are training ourselves not to get stuck in emotional traps. We become the observer, more self-aware of our emotions rather than the reactor. Having the skill of noticing and observing emotions as they arise is essential and allows you to be more present.  

As we become more self-aware of how we are feeling and do not let strong emotions cloud our thinking, we become better communicators. And with practice, we can teach ourselves to avoid the traps of sticky conflict.

Mindfulness Can Help Us to Compassionately Resolve Conflict

To be effective in the workplace, learning how to communicate with clarity, and being skilled at conflict resolution, are required to make us better leaders and trusted by our peers. In times of conflict, a mindful practitioner can begin to see the positive results of their mediation practice. A student of mindfulness has done habitual practice independently and has mindfully sat with challenging emotions as they have come and gone, in states of quiet self-reflective mediation. They have sat through the uncomfortable feelings and learned to observe and accept them rather than lean towards flight or fight scenarios. They have trained your nervous system not to overreact to emotions that arise as of this effort.  

In practicing mindfulness, one learns to overcome and not react to conflict because of a sense of concentration, clarity, and equanimity. As one moves through the phases of mindful development, one learns to manage their thoughts and emotions. In effect, they are learning the skill of thought management that will result in one having a tendency to become calmer, more grounded, centered, and speak with more clarity. Even in tough conversations, the person who is trained in mindfulness can have mindfulness technique playing in the background of their mind to maintain their state of equanimity.  

Furthermore, suppose one is to follow the prescription of bringing a mindful practice to work. In that case, they may be surprised by their resiliency, the ability to an observer with non-judgmental acceptance. They may discover that they approach work with the open mindfulness to be present, listen to what is being said (and not said), and work through tough conversations with more tolerance and compassion.

When one commits to a mindful state of mind, they bring self-awareness to each conversation, allowing for clear, concise communication, which opens the door for more compassion, joy, and clarity, thus more personal empowerment and job satisfaction.

What Does Motivation Have to Do with It?

Posted in: October 30, 2020 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
Blog_Large Vertical

As humans, we are naturally hard-wired to be motivated.

The need to survive, conquer, and feel pleasure is inherent within our brain’s internal reward system, which drives us to work towards achieving simple and complex goals. However, in today’s complicated world, our desire to achieve our goals can be thrown off by internal conflicting desires and outside forces.

Most of us have witnessed the great pleasure and rewards of the brain’s reward system that drives motivation. So, what puts us at risk of losing it? What blocks us from completing the goal or project? 

3 Daily Motivation Killers

  • Stress: Not all stress is bad, but once we reach the tipping point of burnout, we begin a downward spiral that diminishes clarity and productivity. 
  • Poor Physical Health: What we eat, if we exercise, and our sleeping patterns directly impact brain health and cognition. Poor choices and neglecting our physical health can dramatically affect our performance.
  • Negative Communication: Our WORDS matter. Our internal thoughts and the language we use with others have associated meanings that impact us consciously and unconsciously. For example, consider the word “No” versus the word “Yes.” Each word triggers different emotions within us based on past experiences and learned associations. Take a moment to test this on yourself: say “No” out loud, followed by “Yes.” Observe your emotional response to each word – what emotions rise to the surface? When thoughts and words with negative associations outweigh those positive, our cognitive performance decelerates, and we become stuck.

By understanding the basics of how our brain functions, we can learn to reignite a stalled passion or stay on track to complete a difficult task. A mindful pause, for example, is a powerful tool to refocus and spark motivation.

Activate Motivation with Ease 

When entering a state of relaxation, we send fewer signals to our prefrontal cortex (key brain structure of our executive brain) and give our mind space to connect with our intuition and self-awareness. During this pause, we become aware of tension in our body, unhealthy ruminating thoughts, and self-defeating patterns.

As we become aware of mental and emotional roadblocks, we can make conscious decisions to shift harmful behaviors into actions that align with our desires and goals. Thus, creating feelings of success and activating motivation in the reward center of our brain!

By taking a few mindful moments throughout the day to “check-in,” we amplify motivation, improve cognitive performance, side steps “motivation kills, to have more success, fulfillment, and joy in different areas of our lives.

Enhancing Motivation Through Cognitive Performance

Cognitive Performance methodologies are designed to empower you and your teams with tools to stay motivated and live with more ease and satisfaction ­– while performing at the highest level. Founded in evidence-based neuroscience and neuropsychology principles, the CARE© framework leverages our executive brain functions to break harmful patterns, enhance motivation, and effect neuroplasticity change.

Download the Become Extraordinary! eBook to learn 7 additional techniques to get unstuck and rekindle your motivation! 

CARE for Improvement

Posted in: October 16, 2020 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
CARE Model

The CARE® model is an evidence-based process to get unstuck, achieve rapid results, so you can reach your goals with more ease! CARE® for Improvement is the foundation of Cognitive Performance NeuroCoaching. Here’s a high-level look at how CARE works ⬇️

Cognition: Introduce brain-science to unlock the power of thoughts and build a new #cognitive framework so that your executive brain functions are in line with your values, intuition, and desires.

Action: Develop a strategic plan with key milestones to gain momentum and progress quickly – taking the right action, not just action.

Results: Assess results frequently and adjust or refine as needed before moving forward.

Embrace: Mindful acknowledgment and #gratitude for every milestone. Continually celebrating successes builds #confidence and drives #motivation to stay unstuck and achieve rapid results!

CARE is cyclical so that you may continually evaluate and improve different areas of your life. We are constantly in progress – the coaching you receive through CARE will empower you with the framework to work through any new challenge that comes your way.

To learn more, connect with Bernadette @

Improve your thinking, improve your performance.

Posted in: March 19, 2020 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

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:

  • comprehension 
  • 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.

Article References:

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 

How a lack of sleep affects our cognitive performance

Posted in: January 26, 2020 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson
cognitive performance, sleep deprivation, insomnia

Are you forgetful or tend to lose focus easily?

Do you often forget things or tasks that you are sure you know or is it challenging to concentrate on complex assignments? If so, then you are probably experiencing insomnia or more commonly known as sleeplessness which is detrimental to your cognitive performance. 

Sleep deprivation affects brain performance.

That’s right; insomnia can keep hinder you from thinking clearly and put on a perpetual emotional roller-coaster. Studies show that chronic sleepiness can affect the output of the job, cause mood problems such as depression and anger, and can wreak havoc on relationships.

Recent research has set out some of the common reasons why we need adequate sleep and all of the tasks that the brain seems to perform as we sleep. There is more to find out, but here are a few explanations of why the brain needs sleep, and how a lack of sleep affects our cognitive ability and performance. 

Sleep deprivation slows down your thought processes

Researchers assessing sleepiness have found that a lack of sleep results in lower concentration and alertness. Focusing and paying attention becomes more complicated, and you are more easily confused. This also hinders the ability to carry out activities involving logical reasoning or abstract thought, all of which, are cognitive performance abilities.

Sleepiness hinders judgment, too. It’s more challenging to make choices because you can’t analyze circumstances and pick the right actions.

Lack of sleep can impair your memory

Research suggests that adequate sleep can strengthen the nerve connections which make our memories during sleep. Sleep embeds into our short-term memory the things we have learned and encountered over the day. Specific stages of sleep appear to play different roles in consolidating new information into memories. If you are cut short of sleep, it may interfere with these memory building cycles.

You may forget and often misplace things when you are sleepy. The inability to concentrate can further weaken memory and affect cognition. When you can’t focus on what’s at hand, it won’t make it into your short-term memory and long-term memory.

Sleeplessness makes learning new things difficult

Sleep deprivation impacts your learning ability in two ways. 

  1. It’s more difficult to pick up information because you can’t focus due to sleeplessness 
  2. You can’t learn effectively due to slow thought process and impairment of short-term memory

It also affects long-term memory, which is essential for learning. Sleepiness in children can lead to hyperactivity, which hampers learning as well. Teens are more prone to lose focus, discipline, and memory ability in school to perform well.

Insomnia links to slowed reaction time

Insomnia slows down the reaction time, a particular problem while driving, doing work, or other activities requiring a quick response. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 100,000 police-reported crashes are due to driver fatigue each year. Nearly one-third of Americans reported nodding off while driving in the 2017 survey of the National Sleep Foundation.

Evaluate your quality of sleep

Because the needs of an individual’s sleep differ, experts say how you feel is the best way to assess whether you get enough sleep. If your body is getting proper sleep, you shouldn’t feel sleepy after waking up. You should be enthusiastic all day long and wind down gradually as you reach your usual bedtime. 

Ask yourself if your performance is where you want it to be. Is a lack of sleep affecting your cognitive performance? Evaluating your daily skills and quality of life is critical to assess whether a lack of sleep is affecting your cognition, emotional well-being, and performance. 

Learn more about how to improve your sleep and quality of life by getting a free copy of Becoming Extraordinary 


The Brains Behind Conflict and Conflict Resolution

Posted in: June 14, 2019 By: Bernadette Marie Wilson

Conflict and the Brain

            As a leader of teams, you’re no stranger to conflict. It pervades all aspects of daily life at work; between your employees, between you and your employees, between you and others, and of course, within yourself. Yes, conflict is a human condition. Would you like to learn how to manage conflict and use it to achieve the best possible outcome – at work and at home? Examining what is occurring in your brain in times of conflict is the key to understanding and resolution. This exercise is also highly recommended by the top cognitive performance coaches. 

So, what is conflict? 

Here, we’ll define conflict as an interpersonal disagreement, when two or more individuals disagree because of a difference in opinion, competition, negative perceptions, poorly defined role expectations, or lack of communication. Organizational conflict is considered to have a negative impact on team functioning, weakening company stability, disrupting the status quo, and impeding productivity. It’s important to learn to resolve conflict lest it interferes with your company’s operations. 

What is the genesis of conflict?  

The good news is that conflict origination is a well-studied area. “Conflicts can result from an incompatibility of expectations, motivation, goals or values between two or more individuals or groups. In many situations, social conflicts reflect a competition for common and limited resources, goods or territories.” Studies tend to frame that conflict as manifested in one of five predisposing phases. Conflict starts with unawareness leading to a sense of awareness where there is first unease. Then believed minimized conflict (denial, placating), and then personalized conflict of emotions and thoughts towards self and others (resentments, accusations, blame). The final two phases are when the conflict is more manifestly expressed; and, how this affects the individual and team dynamics. Conflict arises from social hierarchies in the company or differing values, views and goals.  

What does conflict do to the brain?

Whenever you experience something (good or bad), the positive or negative stimulus is registered in your brain’s thalamus, the brain’s relay station. In simplistic terms, from there, the thalamus then sends signals to the amygdala and the neocortex as well as other areas of the brain. 

The amygdala is the part of your brain that generates emotional responses, and helps form, store, and consolidate memories. When a stimulus is received, the amygdala compares that stimulus to a reservoir of memories to determine whether the new stimulus represents a physical threat to your safety. 

Your neocortex, on the other hand, executes your rational thought processes, decision making, and moderating behaviour, and it is often referred to as the conscious mind. When a stimulus is non-threatening, the neocortex plays a regulatory role, keeping you within a range of standard behaviour. The amygdala determines if there is a threat with a yes or no response. The neocortex works through a complex set of options and considers various outcomes and possibilities.

But when your brain perceives a threat, like when you begin to encounter a conflict with someone else in the office, many neurological processes begin to rev up and overlap creating a whirlwind of thoughts, and thus, emotions. Your amygdala processes the stimulus faster and before the neocortex, so you have an emotional response within milliseconds before your neocortex produces a rational one. To complicate things, while your amygdala is creating an emotional response, it also immediately restricts signals flowing to the neocortex, essentially shutting down your rational thought processes. This happens because you need to be able to act quickly if it were a real physical threat, but often times, what you’re perceiving as a threat in the workplace is not really a threat, but conflict. This prevents rational conversation and may elevate the conflict further. 

Once your brain perceives something as a threat, it triggers an increase of production of adrenaline and cortisol, which are stress hormones that makes your heart rate increase and, your breathing faster. As your body shunts neurotransmission away from your neocortex, your focus is no longer on how to tell the difference between something “good and bad,” making effective decisions, moderating your behaviour, anticipating future consequences, or properly expressing your ideas. This is why people often need some time to cool off if they’ve been in an argument; this happens without your consciousness but can be triggered by memories and your senses.

While this sounds biological and daunting, it’s still not impossible to manage your employees with these facts. Given the right company culture, cognitive performance training and good habits that develop over time, the neocortex can override the initial emotions encountered during conflict.  

The Brains of a Leader

To be an effective business leader is to know how to prevent conflict from being seen as a threat, rather an opportunity to reach a higher level of extraordinary performance. Not being able to recognize this complex system and manage it during the time of conflict can impair your ability to close an important business deal, and can unnecessarily damage an important relationship. Understanding this system works within you as well as your colleagues provides additional insights and management opportunities. While understanding your vulnerabilities to this normal neural pathway will improve communication and promote conflict resolution, which is vital for all leaders. 


If you would like to receive personal or team training in conflict resolution or learn more about performance training go to Cognitive Performance go to  

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