Brain functioning and performance basics

Brain research. Vector illustration Eps10 file. Global colors. Text and Texture in separate layers.

This article explores our brain’s performance and how it influences our behaviour and outcomes.

This article is a part of a series of articles:

This article was originally published in Be At Your Best in January 2018. It has been updated and republished here.

During this exploration we will look at how we can improve the management of our brain’s functions to develop effective behaviour that enables the achievement of more of what matters most.

Brain & Behaviour Model

In the previous article on this subject, we introduced the brain and behaviour model (shown below), that represents the key factors in building effective behaviour to enable the sustainable achievement what matters most.

In this article we dig a little deeper into our brain’s functioning and how it impacts our thoughts, feelings, behaviour and outcomes.

The link between Energy and Performance

Your wellbeing and performance suffers when you experience prolonged periods of stress and low on energy.

This 4m 30s video takes you through the basics of how stress impacts the brain and why managing energy is important for how you feel and perform.

Play Video

Meeting our basic physical and social needs, helps us to build our mental energy and capacity. As you saw in the video above, this provides optimal conditions to implement our brain’s foundational functions and capabilities (also known as executive or cognitive functions).

These foundational capabilities are key to our performance and include analytical thinking (decision making, solving problems), focusing attention, self-control (stimulus and emotional), planning and language.

We often use these foundational capabilities to learn and perform higher level skills and competencies like complex problem solving, managing others, emotional intelligence, judgement and critical thinking, etc.

The image below helps to visualise this relationship and set of dependencies.

You can read more about these higher level competencies and skills here.

We all need to use the above skills and competencies when interacting with others at work and at home. They are essential for us to be at our best.

For example to be able to give feedback (higher level competency) we need to use use our foundational capabilities of analytical thinking, focus of attention, language and emotional regulation. To be present or to listen we require focus of attention and self-control.

Simplifying the brain's function

Metaphors help us to learn. To simplify the brain’s functioning, we use a metaphor called the Rider and the Elephant, coined by Jonathan Haidt, NYU. Amoungst other books, Jonathan wrote the excellent book: The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science.

The Rider and Elephant metaphor helps us to understand our behaviour and the behaviour of others. Thus it supports us in identifying and performing the required enabling behaviour(s) to achieve what matters most. 

In Daniel Kahneman’s popular book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow‘ he refers to System 1 which would equate to the Elephant and system 2 which would equate to the Rider. 

Introducing the Rider

In this 3 minute video we introduce the Rider, the conscious system in the brain.

The Rider and his functions
Play Video

Introducing the Elephant

In this 4 minute video we introduce the Elephant, the non-conscious system in the brain.

The Elephant and his functions
Play Video

Using this awareness of how our brain functions and influences our thoughts, feelings and behaviour, we are better equipped and resourceful, to handle the different situations we face in life.

If you are looking for more information and practical tools to manage stress, energy and attention; our Energy & Attention course provides science based approaches that you can embed in your day-to-day schedule.

If you are looking for more information and practical tools to understand your brain, change your behaviour or form habits; we address these topics in our FOCUSWRX Habits digital course.

In the next article in this series we will explore the impact and the benefits provided by having a sense of purpose.

Here are all the articles in this series:

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