In our contemporary lives, more and more demands are being made on the brain and our mental resources. A good place to start when it comes to rethinking your approach to productivity is to learn about the basics of the brain.
There are three ‘settings’ in the brain: the red brain (the stressed brain), the orange brain (the task-focused brain) and the green – the optimum state for using your mental resources.
The red brain
The red brain is the state of stress, or the emergency brain. While it works great in short-term emergencies, in long-term challenging and stressful situations, it can compromise our health, our happiness and our most important relationships. In a red-brain state we lack control over what we think, feel and do and we are mostly driven by what our instincts tell us to do. Our stress-induced tunnel vision blocks us from seeing the bigger picture, and small insignificant problems can seem like the end of the world. Our red brain keeps us from thinking rationally, from creatively problem-solving and from learning. If the red brain is on for too long, it can impair our daily functioning.
The green brain is the opposite of the red brain. Let me show you what happens in the green brain. Close your eyes and imagine yourself doing something that you absolutely love; something that makes you feel completely alive.
Did you notice your heart rate slowing down, your neck and shoulder muscles relaxing and your breathing becoming slower and deeper? Did you notice a sense of calmness and openness? This is the green brain or, more precisely, this is the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol lowering and the happiness hormones oxytocin and serotonin increasing.
In the green-brain state your body works at an optimal level.
You sleep well and your digestive system, immune system and sex drive all work as they should. Your emotions are balanced and you are more likely to feel happy and content, enjoying the process of things, not just the outcome. In the green brain you are at your most productive. It boosts creativity, innovation, problem-solving skills and learning. The green brain makes you caring, creates empathy and makes you feel connected to others.
The green brain is best used for everyday life when you are working, relaxing, spending time with your loved ones or even when you are doing everyday things like grocery shopping, buying a coffee or walking down the street. The green-brain state makes you notice and enjoy the little things, boosting both happiness and gratitude. For example, in the green brain I appreciate the house we live in, I am so grateful for the amazing coffee my husband makes me and I soak up all the love in the hugs my children give me. I notice the little bird by the window, I see the drive to work as a precious moment of me-time listening to my favourite music; the list could go on and on. In the green brain state the little things stand out and make you feel grateful and happy with the life you have.
The green brain state also makes you feel more open and connected to the people around you, which increases feelings of love and builds relationships. For example, when I’m in a green brain state, my mornings at home are fun, even though we still have to hurry to be at school on time. All throughout the morning we are connected and the simplest activities can become moments of love. Chasing my son to put on his socks, changing my little girl’s nappy as she stares at me with the biggest smile; all these small, seemingly insignificant things can be precious moments of connection, but I only notice them and engage with them when I’m in the green brain.
But when things go wrong, whether it is children who are not co-operating or a business opportunity that is about to fall through, in the green brain you can problem-solve so much better and more effectively. Instead of having tunnel vision and just continuing with your approach that isn’t working, the green brain sees the bigger picture, is flexible and makes changes when things don’t work.
Truly creative problem-solving only happens in the green brain. Think back to a moment when you had a great idea or came up with the perfect solution to a problem. It is not likely that this happened while you were stressing out. It is likely that you were in the green brain when the solution came to you. Or think of a big mistake you made either at work or in your personal life, something that you look back on and wish you could change. I bet you were in a red brain state when you made that decision.
The red brain works hard, the green brain works smart.
The green brain is the best state for everyday living and productivity. The green brain makes you flexible and creative, keeps an eye on the big picture and makes good decisions.
The green brain makes everything work better (except emergencies). It brings out the most productive and happiest version of you.
Chantal Hofstee is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and mindfulness expert, who has worked in both the private and corporate sectors. She uses the techniques of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness to provide her clients with easy-to-use skills that can be quickly and effectively implemented to change their lives. Through her company, Renew Your Mind, she provides mindfulness courses and business training to enable people to take control of stress, improve focus, solve problems, achieve their goals, boost their productivity and become more creative. Her first book was the very successful Mindfulness on the Run (also with Exisle Publishing).