GUEST COMMENT: Your lifestyle is switching off your frontal lobes

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Brain in jar

This is a stressful time to work in the financial services industry. And in times of stress, it’s very easy to firefight – to prioritize short term needs and neglect your health.

Everyone knows the value of exercising the body – lose weight, healthier heart and lungs, stronger bones, more flexibility, improved circulation…When we exercise, we can see that regular exercise changes the body for the better.

In the same way our brain is also like a muscle in that it changes depending upon what we do to it. We now know from EEG studies of the brain that the experience you give your brain determines how it develops, and in turn, determines how you think and how you behave.

For example: learn another language or learn how to play a musical instrument, and the inter-neuronal connections in the brain grow. When the connections in the brain are rich and abundant then all sorts of improvements in our mental functioning occur, such as:

-       improved memory and better concentration

-       clearer decision making

-       the ability to focus without losing the big picture

-       the ability to learn new things quickly

Research now shows us that the ultimate workout for the brain is meditation. Meditation has been shown to rewire our grey matter in an extremely positive way. One of the most important parts of the brain to be affected by meditation is the pre-frontal cortex. This frontal part is known as the CEO of the brain because it plays such a critical role in processing information in order to make good decisions.

When we are stressed and tired this pre-frontal cortex goes off-line. When the brain is over-stimulated and out of balance due to poor diet, late nights and substance abuse it shuts down. And when the brain is tired due to over-work and lack of rest, the frontal lobes also switch off. This means blood flow is restricted and this shows up as non-active areas in the brain leading to an inability to make right decisions. Behaviour then becomes more habitual – when the frontal lobes aren’t functioning you will fall back on routines – for example, compulsively eating that chocolate bar when you didn’t really want it.

The opposite occurs in meditators. When we hook up a meditator to an EEG machine in order to analyze his/her brain wave activity we see brain coherence increases – the left and right sides of the brain are talking to each other in a coordinated way. This is associated with higher levels of creativity. The frontal lobes show increased blood flow indicating greater awareness, and parts of the brain that were unused become mobilized.

Some financial services professionals have spoken publicly about the benefits of meditation. With $120bn in assets under management, Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Capital is one of the most successful hedge fund managers in the world. He understands first-hand the power of being clear and energized in order to make the right decisions in the midst of turbulent financial markets. And he very openly attributes meditation for his success, “I notice a difference from the moment I meditate. I can be stressed, or tired, and I can go into a meditation and it all just flows off of me,” says Dalio. “I’ll come out of it refreshed and centered and that’s how I’ll feel and it’ll carry through the day.”