As a brain-based coach and consultant, I’m often asked the hack, the bottom line, for how to use neuroscience in real-time.

Whether your desire is about:

~ upping efficiency,

~ developing leadership presence,

~ staying calm outside while overwhelmed inside,

~ navigating a career or life transition,

~ making updates to who and how you want to be,

~ or caring for your memory as part as you get older,

understanding even a few things about how your brain works can be a road map for better mastering the system that is you.

This hack is the mnemonic I-CAN, a brain friendly reminder of four aspects of how your brain performs:

I – Identify Your Goal. I CAN __________. How you word your goal to yourself matters and is a key part of igniting and maintaining motivation. Dr. Michelle Segar, from the University of Michigan, calls it Finding the Right Why. Dr. Richard Boyatzis, from Case Western University, calls it the positive emotional attractor. Peel back the goal layer by layer until you get to what’s behind it in a way that it speaks to you, tugs at you, emotionally. So, for example, eating more vegetables, may really be about feeling good everyday about how you take care of yourself.

C – Calm the Limbic System. How you pick up on, and respond to internal signals of stress is what allows you to be who you want to be, particularly under pressure. The stress response, the fight or flight response, or as Daniel Goleman calls it, an amygdala hijack, occurs when our brain’s limbic system rightly or wrongly interprets people, places, or things as threatening or potentially threatening because they are unfamiliar. This system can very quickly command the energy used for your cognitive abilities and re-distributed them to support a set of physiologic responses that prepare you to defend against the threat. You might experience this as your heart beating faster and harder, a flip of your stomach, finding yourself at a loss for words, struggling to remember something you know well, or having an emotional outburst disproportionate to the situation. Think about a time you were in a conversation and started to get upset, or what it’s like for you when you suddenly become nervous. How do you feel it in your body? What is your earliest physical signal? Calming the limbic system is about becoming aware of when this process when it starts, and intervening in ways that you can calm yourself in an instant so that you can stay calm, thoughtful, and in control, even when stressed.

A – Attend to Your Just Right Zone. Dr. Amy Arnsten at Yale University calls the pre-frontal cortex the goldilocks brain because it needs the neurochemical conditions just right to work best. Your prefrontal cortex is used when you plan, prioritize, compare and contrast, manage emotions, focus, connect various ideas in creative and innovative ways, and make decisions. When in your just right zone, think top of a bell curve, you are actively engaged and on task in a good stress way, without being overwhelmed, frustrated and disorganized in a bad stress way. Noticing what it feels like to be in the zone versus out of the zone, and what kinds of things can push you in, if you’re not quite there, or tamp things down if you’re over the top underpins brain performance. With practice, it will become second nature to do this check in and respond accordingly such that you pair your most complex tasks, even structure your time, in alignment with your just right zone. Have you ever been so engaged in doing something that you lose track of time and stop thinking about how you are feeling about what you are doing because you’re so involved in doing it? Use that as a benchmark of your personal just right zone. Add to that just identifying if you’re under engaged or over engaged to get a sense of how your personal energy flows throughout the day and what might influence it either way.

N – Navigate Purposefully. Better brain performance is the culmination of many factors beyond how we understand the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system, and our performance curve. Lifestyle habits directly influence how our brain performs both in the short term, and the long term. Navigating purposefully is a reminder to consider if your overall routine is designed to support your goal. Sleep, nutrition, exercise, activity level, social connection, and new experiences, are just some of the factors in addition to stress that can compromise a healthy brain and a high performing brain. Most of us can pretty quickly identify a habit or two we have that might keep us just a bit off target. What’s that for you? Working to establish a new habit takes repetition, however, because of the brain’s desire for efficiency, if you practice the new behavior consistently, your brain will take over and start defaulting to that new desired behavior. In small steps work through what might be next in how you can confidently know that whatever you face – I-CAN.

you’d like a step by step workbook, with strategies and science based tips for each area, the
full I-CAN e- workbook can be downloaded