The Key to Success Is Not How to Think, But Instead When to Think

Your brain is truly amazing.

Inside your skull is a supercomputer composed of over 100 billion neurons with roughly 1 quadrillion synaptic connections.

That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000 ways that your brain interacts within itself, your body, and your environment!

Your brain weighs roughly 3 pounds, that’s about 2% of an average healthy adult BUT uses almost 20% of the energy-producing glucose that you’re body takes in.

That’s why it sometimes hurts to think, you’re literally burning calories like a furnace.

Your brain is a powerhouse of potential!

But…

If it’s so powerful, why are we so bad at using it?

You Use Your Brain Incorrectly

Pause for a minute.

Imagine or picture this scenario. You’re at work, your boss just dumped a huge problem on your lap and tells you that you need to fix this by next week.

What do you do?

Well, for most of us, we immediately dive deep and go into problem-solving mode. We look at all of the issues, the parameters, the constraints, the options, cost/benefit analysis, and possible outcomes.

And at the same time, you’re doing this, you’re also thinking of keeping the boss happy, not messing up, and being able to do all of this within the time you’ve been given, even though at the moment you don’t see how.

The brain goes into problem-solving, threat-reducing, amygdala-oriented survival response.

And that is the least creative or effective way to come up with solutions.

The Computer and the Programmer

Are you like most people?

You treat your brain as if it’s nothing more than a glorified calculator?

You punch in a problem and expect it to spit out an answer?

The problem is that the brain is so much more than a calculator, yet at the same time, on its own, it operates as mindlessly as one.

The reason the whole mindfulness movement is so popular is the realization that we often run on cruise-control, with no one at the wheel.

The Habit Poem
I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to
failure.
I am completely at your command.
Half of the things you do you might as well turn
over to me and I will do them — quickly and
correctly.
I am easily managed — you must be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done
and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically.
I am the servant of great people,
and alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine though
I work with the precision of a machine
plus the intelligence of a person.
You may run me for profit or run me for ruin -
it makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me, and
I will place the world at your feet.
Be easy with me and I will destroy you.
Who am I?
I am Habit.

The fact of the matter is that your brain is not just a fancy computer running around on automatic.

Nor is your brain, the programmer, punching in lines of code into the computer, telling it what to do when and where.

You and your brain are actually both and that’s where the problem comes in, you do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Worker Bee and Queen Bee Modes

For over 30 years now, I’ve had this weekly ritual, and it’s something that I share with all of my coaching clients.

Every Sunday from 9 am to noon, it's “Chuck Time.” The time I block off in my calendar every week to sit back, reflect, and plan the upcoming week.

Now you may not need 3 hours like I do but I find that window of time allows me to consistently relax, reflect, and renew myself for what’s on my plate.

I call it my Queen Bee mode.

In Queen Bee mode, the first thing I do is ask myself 3 questions:

  1. Where am I?
  2. How did I get here?
  3. Where do I want to go?

At first, I just sit and reflect, I don’t plan.

Planning is the critical part of the brain, not the creative. So, I let things circulate, percolate, and gestate. Creating an environment for my brain to relax and do what it does best, explore.

After it’s explored a bit, it's only then that I begin to layout and plan the upcoming week or two. Preparing the necessary legwork and research so that when it is time to put on my Worker Bee overalls, I have as much in place so that I can be busy doing the work.

The Three Stages of Brain Function

To grossly oversimplify it, your brain operates in 3 modes:

  1. The Default Creative Mode
  2. The Salient Prioritization Mode
  3. The Executive Action-Taking Mode

You know how when you’re relaxing in nature or while taking a shower, your brain floods you with new ideas, a-ha moments, and remembers things out of the blue that may have been nagging you for hours or days?

That’s your default creative mode. That is when those billions of neurons and quadrillions of connections are flowing and firing off, creating all sorts of amazing associations.

But, at a certain point, you need to make sense of it all, or else you run the risk of rabbit-holes and butterflies. Flitting about and digging around, but not getting anywhere.

That’s when the Salient mode of the brain needs to take over. It needs to look at all of the wonderful ideas you have gathered and put them into some kind of meaningful framework, a game plan.

Once that is done, then the Executive Mode of the brain can take over, rallying the forces, overcoming fear and doubt, and charging into the fray.

And the key to all of this is doing the right thinking at the right time. Salient and Executive thinking requires more energy and willpower, they need to be done when your energy is high and you are rested.

While your default thinking happens when you are relaxing and does not require much mental energy, after all, it is our default mode. It is where our brain settles to when it isn’t given something to do.

But what can kill all of this is worry, lack of rest, and feeling overwhelmed. That is why I recommend to everybody I coach that they schedule a regular time slot for “Me Time.”

It creates the space to set worry aside, get a little bit of mental and physical rest, and organize your life, and chip away at the overwhelm.

Another tool I recommend is to track your daily activity and energy levels to notice patterns and situations when you are at your best and your not-so-best, you can download one here.

When are you most creative?

And when are you a ball of fire, ready to tackle the world?

When you know these times, you can create a powerful framework to get more done with less effort.

Let me know how that works for you.

Life-long learner and idea machine.