If 6 months ago I didn’t even know what neuroscience was, right now I feel like neuroscience is the topic that interests me the most.
6 months ago, I was in a place where, for example, I didn’t know why it feels so great to achieve smaller goals than bigger ones. I had heard about things like dopamine before, but didn’t know what it is or what it does.
Another example would be that 6 months ago I was seeing the relationships I had with those around me totally different than I see them now.
I have some amazing things to share with you about neuroscience and I’m going to list most of them in this article. But first, what is neuroscience?
Neuroscience (or neurobiology) is the scientific study of the nervous system. It is a multidisciplinary science that combines physiology, anatomy, molecular biology, developmental biology, cytology, mathematical modeling, and psychology to understand the fundamental and emergent properties of neurons and neural circuits.
This explanation of neuroscience is from Wikipedia.
For me, neuroscience is a better way to understand myself and it helps me find specific methods of improving myself.
Three resources to better understand neuroscience
More than the improvement itself, learning about neuroscience gave me this feeling that I’m finally finding out the missing pieces of my life puzzle.
There are so many things that went wrong in the past about life areas like discipline, motivation, success, and more. Discovering neuroscience and studying in-depth information about it makes me feel like things can get overall better.
When you struggle with depression and other things that can negatively impact the perception you have on the things around you, finding a way out of it feels like a big chunk of hope.
Therefore, here are three resources that I started with. And you can start with exactly these three if you want to better understand and improve yourself with the help of neuroscience.
Your Brain at Work, by Dr. David Rock
This is a great book. Oh, such a great book.
If I would have to mention one thing that stuck with me from this book and it is probably the most important one, is that it takes energy and effort to think about more ideas at the same time.
According to neuroscience, our prefrontal cortex is responsible for how creative we are, how we set goals, how we make decisions, and much more. But our prefrontal cortex can’t hold too many things at the same time.
In this book, the prefrontal cortex is associated with a stage where you put actors (things you focus your attention on) and studies say you can’t have more than 3-4 actors on stage at the same time. When it comes to burnout, there’s a conflict between the actors you need on stage and the ones that you actually have on stage. To avoid it, you have to switch your focus from your current actors to anything else, so they can leave the stage and make room for others.
5 short but great ideas from Your Brain at Work
- Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is the brain equivalent of the adrenaline most people feel before public speaking. It’s the chemistry of fear. When you are scared, you pay intense attention; you are highly alert. Fear brings a deep and immediate alertness.
- Where norepinephrine is the chemistry of alertness, dopamine is the chemistry of interest. Just expecting a positive event, anything the brain perceives as reward, generates dopamine. Rewards to the brain include food, sex, money, and positive social interactions.
- To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. Here’s the idea: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion. Open up a dialogue about an emotion and you tend to increase it.
- Maintaining good focus on a thought occurs through not so much how you focus, but rather how you inhibit the wrong things from coming into focus. Each time you stop yourself from doing something, the next impulse is harder to stop.
- When you speak to someone about an idea, many more parts of your brain are activated than just thinking about the idea, including memory regions, language regions, and motor centers. It makes it easier to recall ideas later on, as you have left a wider trail of connections to follow.
Habits of a Happy Brain, by Loretta Breuning, Phd
Another great book!
If you’ve felt like the information from the previous book is too hard to understand (which may happen only because I shared you excerpts, not the entire book), I recommend you start with this one.
Everything in Habits of a Happy Brain seems to be easier to understand, in case you have no idea what neuroscience is.
If I would have to mention one thing that stuck with me from this book and it is probably the most important one, is that we have both good and bad neurochemicals.
While dopamine (generated when we’re about to get what we’re looking for) is a good neurochemical, cortisol (generated when we feel in danger and it makes us feel fear, anxiety, or stress) may be considered a bad one. But even the bad chemicals are helpful.
For example, let’s say you start a project and you know it takes you 7 months just to launch it. In case you start seeing patterns that make you understand there’s something wrong with your project (maybe it takes too much to launch or maybe it’s not targeting the right audience), then cortisol is generated to make you feel there’s something wrong and adjust your route.
As Loretta says, understanding cortisol helps you make peace with the world around you.
5 short but great ideas from Habits of a Happy Brain
- When it comes to expectations vs. reality, your cortex is always making predictions about future pain and future rewards. But anticipated rewards don’t always materialize and this is a source of cortisol.
- The more threatened you feel by life outside the group, the more pain you tolerate from within it.
- The nice feeling of trust may distract you from building the skills you need to promote your own survival. You could lean on others to avoid the bad feeling of your own limitations, but you might end up with more frustration.
- In today’s world, you don’t need to forage for food, but dopamine makes you feel good when you scan your world, find evidence of something that felt good before, and go for it.
- The brain triggers joy when it encounters any new way to meet its needs. New food. New love. New places. New techniques. When you understand your brain, you realize the disappointment comes from you rather than the thing itself.
Huberman Lab Podcast
This is the 3rd resource I recommend and it’s the one that’s the most interesting but it requires the most focus.
It’s a new podcast and I’ve discovered Andrew Huberman in another podcast, where he speaks about changing and improving your brain.
As I’m writing this, the podcast has only 4 episodes released and I only had time to check the first one, which is more than enough for me to be interested in learning more and also recommend it.
If I would have to mention one thing that stuck with me from this fist episode (and the above-linked podcast) and it is probably the most important one, is the three things that brain focuses on: duration, path, and outcome. Is vital to learn how to manage these three things in order to increase creativity.
In the first episode of the podcast, Andrew talks about how we can change our nervous system and it starts by sharing the 5 elements that our nervous system is made of:
- Emotions & Feelings
I’m not going to share more with you about the podcast, but I encourage you to discover it yourself as it may help you better understand your brain better and eventually improve your life.
In case you didn’t know what neuroscience is, I hope this article got you at least a bit interested in the topic and made you curious. If you have one hour today (or even less), go ahead and play the first episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast. You won’t be disappointed.
With love and optimism,