Your brain is a high-end computer, and there are several things you can do to optimise its performance
BY TONY PEREIRA
Everything that makes us and all our experiences of the world are somehow conjured up by 1.4 kilograms of grey matter inside our skulls.
Thew brain is 75 per cent water. It is about 15cm or six inches in length. It is a supercomputer. It processes about 34 GB of data every day. For context, that is about the memory of your standard laptop.
There are 86 billion cells in the brain. Each cell is connected to the other by an axon (sometimes referred to as a neural pathway).
When two brain cells successfully connect, electrical signals can be passed from one cell to another. Hence the brain can send messages to various parts of the body. We call this successful connection synapses.
But here is what is amazing. If we could connect each of the axons, the total length of the axons would be long enough to go around planet earth four and a half times! Yes, the total length of all the axons in our brain is 186,000 kilometres. Think about that!
Here is another important fact. Even though the brain is only about two per cent of total body weight, it consumes about 30 per cent of our food intake.
I shudder now when I recall my daily dinner meals at the cafeteria at university. All those fried beef patties and “chip butties” may have tasted good but they did not help my brain at all. Yes, when we are young, it probably does not affect us but the deterioration is incremental. It catches up!
In a fascinating TED Talk called “The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans” by Dr Daniel Amen, he shares another shocking fact – Alzheimer’s starts up to 50 years before any symptoms manifest themselves. That explains why we read now about many footballers (both of the American form and the game called soccer) being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
All the damage their brain had taken when they were at their prime is now coming home to roost. At least for professional soccer players, technical improvements made to the football means that it is much lighter than it used to be; hence the damage caused by heading the ball constantly is hopefully lessened. Not sure the professional football players in the US have received any better protection, though.
Filtering what goes into your brain
Our brain has its own firewall called the Reticular Activation System or RAS, located between the hindbrain and the spinal cord. As I mentioned above, the brain must process about 34GB of data every day.
To help the brain, the RAS acts as a filter. It decides what to “let in” to the various parts of the brain and what is stopped from entering the brain.
Over the last two years, I have been taking courses in neuroscience. A fascinating subject. About six months ago, I started noticing many books and magazines about the brain in my local bookstore.
I remember telling my wife that the universe is speaking to me! All this material about the brain just because I am taking courses on it. Thank you, universe.
And just the other week, my tutor gave me an assignment – to buy a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and assemble it without looking at the picture. He says it is the ultimate exercise for the brain.
I thought about where I could get a jigsaw puzzle. When I went to the local bookstore, there were boxes and boxes of jigsaw puzzles – 200 pieces up to 3,000 pieces. And on the box cover it said, “Test your brain.” I told my wife I had been going to that bookstore for 20 years and had never seen puzzles before.
Not true. It was the RAS in action. You see, what was happening all these years is that the RAS did not think that the books and magazines about the brain or the jigsaw puzzles were relevant data for my brain to know. So, it shut those pieces of information from entering the brain.
Once I started doing my courses, after a few weeks of attending lectures and writing notes, the RAS decided that matters pertaining to the brain were relevant, so whenever my eyes saw anything related to the brain, the RAS let that information through to the occipital lobe (that part of the brain which deals with visuals).
I started seeing all things brain related. Have you ever had that experience? When you buy a car, did you suddenly notice many similar models on the road? Or if you have ever been pregnant, did you suddenly notice more pregnant women than before you became pregnant? If so, that is your RAS working. The RAS works in other ways as well. When the term “voice in the head” was conjured up, it referred to the RAS.
Remember, your brain is a high-end computer. There are a number of things you can do to optimise performance. Keep it fueled by eating right.
Keep it hydrated. Just a small drop in water consumption can negatively affect your brain. As a rough rule of thumb, your brain needs 0.5 litres of water for every 13 kg in body weight. Do the math and then consume the right amount of water daily.
Exercise regularly. Get enough rest. Use your RAS. – The Health
Tony Pereira is an Independent Consultant and Founder of SuperTrouper365
Getting to know your RAS
Another technique that neuroscientists recommend optimising the benefits of the RAS is practice visualisation. There are many talks on social media on how to visualise.
Don’t get carried away by those speakers who say that you can get whatever you want by visualising. Not true. What you can do is make sure your brain has an image of what
you are trying to achieve. Once the RAS has this image, it will let through any information that helps you achieve your aim.
One easy way to communicate to the RAS is to create a vision board of your goals. Use it as a screen saver. A great way to communicate with the RAS. Let me share my experience on how I used visualisation.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to emcee our annual regional gala dinner in Bali. There were a number of people in our leadership team who were a bit nervous.
They weren’t sure I could pull this off. But they were too polite to say anything. I did my homework – wrote my script, created a few visuals, and felt pretty good about the whole thing.
Small details matter
In the week leading up to the event, I practised visualisation. I lay in bed each night, closed my eyes, and imagined the event was taking place then.
You see, the RAS does not differentiate an actual event from an imagined one. I did this every night for a week. By the time the event came about, as far as the brain was concerned, I had been hosting this event the whole week, so the actual event was no different.
I was relaxed – no sign of nerves. Everything went to plan – the audience even laughed at the right time! The following year, I was asked to emcee again.
I went through the same ritual. And it worked even better. It is important to note that visualisation is not the same as rehearsing. You can visualise a major presentation; an interview that you are attending and other such events. It is playing the event in your mind, the way that you would like it to go. It may not go exactly the way you want, but it is all about preparation. The small details matter.