Anat Baniel is a clinical psychologist best known for using “movement” to train the brain in ways that help people overcome pain and other limitations. And she’s particularly involved in work with children with developmental difficulties. But her “NeuroMovement” method provides fascinating possibilities for business leaders who don’t want their brains stuck in a rut.
Our movements–not just of our bodies, but of our thinking, our feelings, and our emotions–help our brains grow by creating new connections that take advantage of the brain’s incredible plasticity.
Baniel teaches nine “essential” movement skills that help the brain create these connections and “reach new levels of physical and cognitive performance.” Developing these skills upgrades our brains into the ultimate problem-solver. You can learn more about these skills in her book, Move Into Life, but here are four you can apply today:
Go slow and easy
The brain is an information system that turns disorder into order by putting information into patterns. When information is forced upon us too quickly, we’re less likely to spot differences and make connections that lead to innovative ideas. So, when we want to learn a new skill or brainstorm a creative solution, we should approach it slowly at first. Our brains will build new neurological connections that, with repetition, can help us run faster later on.
I can relate these skills to my hobby of weight lifting. Dead lifting is simply grabbing a barbell loaded with weights and standing up with it. To learn to do it properly, however, my coach started me with a plastic bar with no weight. I practiced the technique slowly and with low intensity, paying attention to how I felt and what I was doing until my body and mind were ready to incrementally add weight.
As leaders, too often we rush toward high-speed, high-intensity solutions that only create anxiety when the better option might be to take a nap or silently sip from a warm cup of coffee.
Be enthusiastic about the little things
The brain shows a preference for remembering things that create a positive response, Baniel said. Intentionally choosing to feel enthusiasm about things that might seem insignificant provides context to the nervous system and gives it direction.
I’ve experienced this when writing books. If I express some enthusiasm about a paragraph I like, I’m more likely to crank out more paragraphs I like.
Sharing our enthusiasm can expand the impact. Baniel calls this “generosity of spirit.” People obviously feed on our words of affirmation and encouragement, but they also pick up on the enthusiasm in our moods.
“There’s research now that shows our brains communicate with each other whether we talk or not,” Baniel said.
Imagine and dream
Using our imagination creates enormous amounts of plasticity in the brain by generating different scenarios for doing things. And our dreams–the things we’re passionate about, not our nighttime dreams–“organize us from our future,” Baniel says. They provide a bigger context and open us to feelings of possibilities.
Too often, the first feeling a big dream produces is fear, and our reaction is to dismiss the dream so we can get rid of the fear. Instead, we can increase our brainpower by allowing ourselves to dream, to fantasize, unconditionally, without expectations of results. It’s like dreaming of what we’d do with $10 million but without spending money on a lottery ticket.
“Imagination is an action,” Baniel said. “Dreaming is an action. But they are things you do in the context of the other essentials.”
If we have a strong desire to make the dream a reality, then we can approach it differently. But there’s value in dreaming and imaging just for the sake of waking up and developing our brains.
Awareness is an action. If we do something new and don’t know it, the learning dissipates. If we’re intentionally aware of how we feel and what we’ve experienced, the brain remembers it and calls upon it later when we need it.
As a public speaker, I experience this frequently when sharing a story that I’ve told a hundred times before. As soon as I’m aware that the story is feeling a bit stale, I’m able to refocus on the people in the room and their needs, remembering that they’ve never heard it. Instantly, the story feels spontaneous, alive, and fresh again.
To develop this skill, Baniel suggests making a habit of regularly spending at least five seconds throughout the day taking an awareness inventory of everything around you.
Developing the skills Baniel teaches actually changes our brains in ways that make us more effective leaders and take us places we never imagined.
[This post was originally published on my weekly column at Inc.com]