Push muscles, relax brain

In a previous post, I wrote: “Our brain, somewhat analogous to our muscles, needs work to develop and be strong, and needs rest to recuperate and renew.”

There is a difference between what our muscles and our brain need in order to do good work for us.

Let’s say our muscles are working reasonably hard for us. We might be digging up the garden with a shovel in the springtime, or shoveling the snow off the sidewalk in the wintertime. Then someone yells at us: “Hurry up! We have to leave in 10 minutes!”

When someone yells at us when our muscles are working, we can shovel harder and we will get the job done sooner. We may puff and pant a little, and we will still get the job done sooner.

The brain is different in its response to time pressure.

Let’s say our brain is working reasonably hard for us. We might be doing homework, or finishing up our income tax return. Then someone yells at us: “Hurry up! We have to leave in 10 minutes!” To some extent we can “hurry our brain,” and perhaps get the job done a little sooner, especially if we don’t mind making some mistakes.

When we put the brain under pressure–unlike muscles–the brain’s best performance usually deteriorates or slows down.

When someone yells at us when our brain is working reasonably hard, our brain usually ceases to do its best work. Or it may briefly speed up and work harder for a short time, and then go towards less clarity. You might even have a brain crash.

Why does brain performance decline under pressure?

Because the brain works best when it is relaxed and alert, not hurried and harried.

When I teach individual students or train teachers, I tell them:

(1) With respect to muscles, the harder you try, the better they work.

(2) With respect to the brain, the harder you don’t try, the better it works.

“That’s backwards!” they say.

Yes, amazingly, the brain’s performance and power increase when it is not under time pressure, when it is not under worry pressure.

Your brain works best when it is relaxed and alert.

So what do I do when my brain is under pressure?

Get up from your mental task and go get a drink of water. Even a 2% drop in your body/brain hydration will slow down or fog up your cognitive functions. The “get up and get a drink of water” both gives you some physical movement (which the brain loves and thrives upon) and also adds to the water availability in your body/brain system (which the brain loves and thrives upon).

So the “get up and get a drink of water” has a double benefit. Triple action actually. It benefits the body in general, and the brain and muscles in particular.

Another thing you can do to strengthen your brain power and reduce your fear of failure, right there where you are, is to sit back, relax, and take three (3) deep breaths. Breathe in deeply (not so deep it is not comfortable) through your nose, hold your breath briefly, and exhale through your mouth. “Breathe away your troubles,” as they say.

Better still, stand up before you relax and take your three (3) deep breaths. That gives you the added benefit or more physical movement without taking you away to the other room for a drink of water. In this case, you can have your water bottle at hand on your desk beside you. Better still, stand up and walk a little, right there, beside your desk. You might even shake your arms and stretch them towards the ceiling. You could wiggle your fingers and yell “Eh?” before you take your three (3) deep breaths.

If your nose is plugged, simply breathe in and out through your mouth. 😮

If other people are nearby, yell “Eh?” inside your head, silently. No one will hear you. 😮

Be sure your water stays out of the computer keyboard! 😮

Doc Meek, May 3, 2010

At Sherwood Park, Alberta, CANADA; not at South Jordan, Utah, USA

2 Responses to “Push muscles, relax brain”

  • Lori:

    I hadn’t thought about that before but it is so true! I guess I need to work staying calm and gently encouraging my children to work on their homework. You said when your brain is working well, though. What if they are not on task, then is it okay to yell at them? 🙂

  • Dear Lori, I am delighted to see your comments on my blog entry, “Push muscles, relax brain.” When children are not on task mentally, it usually means that their brain needs more movement in the body for the brain to work more effectively. 20 minutes of exertion exercise yields 1-3 hours of good mental focus, provided the heart has reached 65% of its maximum. Running on the spot will do, since that means you can participate with them! 😮

    Running outside in the fresh air is better, weather permitting. It may be too fresh in winter, eh?

    When the brain is not on task, it can also simply mean that the subject does not have intrinsic interest for the brain. Can you help the brain jazz it up a little? Color and music and dance and pictures can help a lot. Initially parents and teachers can help to add color to a dull subject. Then, over time, the child/student can be taught to do their own “jazzing up” when they themselves detect that their RAS (reticular activating system) is not “fired up.” (See previous post on the RAS, May 1, 2010.) Blessings, Doc

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