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Time for a Mid-Year Review...of your Prefrontal Cortex.

Photo by Ben Sweet on Unsplash

Mid-year is a useful time for reflection. Many of us have created personal and/or professional goals for the year, so checking in to assess progress, celebrate our successes and reengage or redirect our focus for the second half of the year is a worthwhile activity.

For my mid-year focus I’ll be talking to my clients about their brains, specifically the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)! The PFC sits in the front of the brain and is responsible for ‘executive function’ (thoughtful decision-making, good judgement, planning, understanding what others are thinking, self-control and acting towards long-term goals).

Turns out the PFC requires a certain chemical environment to function at its best.

What I’ve learned recently in my neuroscience and coaching training is that when we are experiencing too much stress or stimulation we have too much dopamine and norepinephrine flowing in our brains. One of my clients described this state as “like being on a fast moving train” another said “it’s like being in a room with reality TV on very loud”.

This can result in functional impairment: foggy thinking, poor impulse control, poor decision-making, poor memory, a lack of empathy and black and white thinking.

One client describes what he does after work when he’s feeling too much stress/stimulation: “I go home and engage in time-wasting behaviors like watching Netflix and eating whatever I want.”

It surprised me to learn that we may feel the exact same symptoms when we experience too little stress or stimulation--say when we’re bored or tired. A client described this state as ‘senioritis’--like being in his final months of high school with very little motivation to excel academically. In this case the brain has too little dopamine and norepinephrine flowing.

One of my clients, who is feeling underutilized at work, describes feeling fuzzy and being unsure about what to do about her work situation.

Over to you--

At this mid-point of the year, take a moment to evaluate your PFC. Here’s what to look out for: Are you alert, engaged, responsible and functioning at a high level? Or are you distracted, disorganized, forgetful or lacking restraint?

Shifting from feeling over-stimulated, or under-stimulated, is a conversation I’ve been having with my clients. Here are some of their ideas for making practical behavioral changes to help optimize their PFC and get those chemicals in balance:

  • Get out of your brain and into your body: Garden, craft, cook.

  • Reconnect with the most important things in your life.

  • Evaluate how you’re spending your time and expending your energy (too many meetings?).

  • Align your time with your passions and strengths.

  • Manage your reactivity, be aware of your triggers.

  • Take a moment to focus on gratitude. Find perspective.

  • Create a mindshift. Ask yourself what else you want to do in your life.

  • Reconnect with your body. Does it need to move? If so go for a walk at lunchtime or commit to an exercise or yoga class.

  • Say no to social activities that may be depleting or misaligned with how you’re feeling.

  • Take a break from smartphones and social media.

  • Breathe. Practice mindfulness.

  • Delegate.

And a last one from me:

  • Pull back to the 20,000 foot view of your life. Being in the metaview can help us notice what we can’t see when we’re down in the details of our lives. Where may you be constrained or defensive?

For a more scientific introduction to the PFC, including a useful bell curve visual, check out this blog post written by my neuroscience and coaching instructor, Ann Betz. Ann describes the Goldilocks of the brain--the not ‘too little’, not ‘too much’ but the ‘just right’ level of stress/stimulation.

If you would like to evaluate your year to date, and your PFC, drop me a line and we’ll set up a time for a coaching session.

Have a good summer!

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