Friederike, for the start, please tell us about your leadership role in the house.
We have five kids aged 6,5,4,2, and 1. How do we keep up with that? Every single thing we do at our house is based on neuroscience – and I have a lot of fun with that.
Let me give you an example. This winter I decided that we should spend at least an hour outdoors every day, regardless of the weather in order to get more natural light, which is important for our brain. How do I achieve that? Do I force my kids to go out when it’s raining? We know that willpower is a limited resource, so that would probably be a very painful process.
Instead, I’m using a technique called “Implementation Intentions”. Research shows that people are much more successful in adopting new habits when there is a clear “when-then”-connection, linking a certain behavior to a specific situation. For us it’s: “When we get home from school, we go outside”.
In addition, I’m using a technique called “Nudging”. Nudging is a way of setting up the environment in a way so that whatever behavior you want to encourage, is easy to do. What does this mean here? I have put all of our outdoor clothes conveniently next to the door. You just don’t leave the house if it’s cold, dark, and raining outside and you first have to search for seven different outdoor gears.
The same principle applies if you want to encourage any kind of behavior in the workplace: Make it easy. It sounds trivial, but it really works.
You have a great theory for success, with a lot of science in the background. It’s called 3F (Fun, Fear, Focus). (Please explain a bit), and if you could choose another, 4th F, what F would it be?
We all need a certain mix of neurochemicals to reach peak performance. And when you have the right mix, you will be multiple times more productive. You can save a lot of time if you know how to get there, whenever you need it, whenever you want it.
So how can you get there? It all comes down to three simple things and I like to call them Fun, Fear, and Focus.
When we have fun, our brain releases dopamine. And dopamine is a real brain booster. It makes us think faster, it makes us learn better. Everything is easy when you are high on dopamine. It’s not just nice to have fun at work, it’s essential.
So how can you have more fun at work? Fun is highly individual. The easiest way to have more fun is to find a job that is in line with your strengths. If you are good at crunching numbers – find a job where that talent can shine. If you are talented with words, seek an environment where you can use these skills.
Most people think that we reach the best possible performance when our skills are in line with the challenge. That’s not true. We reach our best performance when our challenge is a little bit too big for us. We need to be what I like to call “slightly over-challenged”.
Because that’s when the brain releases a substance called noradrenaline.
Noradrenaline is like a wake-up call for our brain, telling us: “Wake up! Something truly important is going on! You need to rise to the occasion!” Your brain is not going to go into peak performance when you are sitting in a boring meeting.
Do you know that feeling when you take a cold shower or plunge into a cold pool? It’s a bit scary at first, but once you do it, you get that kick. That’s the noradrenaline.
So how can you get it at work? Take on projects that are a little bit too difficult for you, get that promotion, take some risks. If you are never nervous at your job, you are not reaching peak performance.
Imagine Serena Williams taking a call in the middle of the Wimbledon finals. Her fans would be appalled. Yet, in the business world, people behave like this all the time. Research shows that when we multi-task, we make 50 percent more mistakes and we take 50 percent longer to complete the task. That’s insane! Our brain needs to be focused in order to reach peak performance. Because only when we are fully focused, we are going to release a substance called acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is like a spotlight. It highlights your most important thoughts while everything else remains in the dark.
How can you become more focused? Many books will tell you to meditate or to try yoga. There is a much easier way. You can hack your brain for focus.
When people are multitasking or distracted at work or anywhere else, it’s usually the symptom, not the disease. They use their smartphones as an escape mechanism when they are bored out or stressed. Here is the hack: Find the right level of fun, find the right level of fear, and focus will follow naturally.
If I had to pick an additional F, it would be Flow. Because that’s what you get when you combine the 3Fs.
After you explained 3Fs, you are saying that we need to be aware of 3Ss, in order to live a healthy life. (Sport, Sleep, Snacks) and if you could choose another, 4th S, what S would it be?
Usually, when people get cranky, it could be fixed by doing some sports, getting some sleep, or having a snack.
Most people think that you go to the gym to exercise your body. And then you do crossword puzzles to keep your brain fit. No, the most effective way to exercise your brain is by exercising your body. Let me break it to you: your brain is a part of your body It’s with sports, sleep, and snacks that your brain gets most of the neurochemicals it needs to reach peak performance and emotional wellbeing.
When we move physically, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters make us feel great and boost our cognitive performance. We also release a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps us to learn better. Our brain gets more oxygen too, which is always a plus when it comes to cognitive performance.
Sleep is important to restore dopamine and serotonin levels. It’s during sleep that the brain removes toxins and stress hormones. Sleep is also important to transfer information from short term to long term memory.
All of the neurotransmitters we need for reaching peak performance and emotional balance are not built from love and air. We have to physically intake the building blocks so that our body can produce them.
If I had to introduce a fourth S, it had to be social: We know that our brains are very social. When we have great social relationships, we will live up to eight years longer, we will be happier, and more profitable too.
Have you ever thought that coaching also could release some of the hormones, and helps the client to feel better and be more successful?
Research shows that the best predictor for success in coaching is the relationship between the coachee and the coach. This is really interesting because when we trust someone and when we truly connect, the brain releases a substance called oxytocin. Oxytocin triggers the release of dopamine, which makes us feel great and motivates us. Oxytocin also triggers the release of serotonin which reduces anxiety and stabilizes our mood. With this potent release of neurochemicals, coaching can be a truly powerful tool! But only when you have a great relationship with your coach.
You are preparing the new book. Could you promise that you will pay attention to the question: “How we could change someone’s behavior, without the “boomerang” effect?”
People always ask me: How can we change? The brain has evolved in a certain way for millions of years. It’s much more effective to change the workplace than to try to change somebody’s brain. When the workplace is right, you will automatically get the behaviors you want to see.
Here is how this is relevant for my new book: Most companies try to increase diversity and they fail. Why do they fail? They ask women to “lean in” and focus on “unconscious bias” while completely ignoring neurochemical diversity. What is neurochemical diversity? People thrive in different kinds of workplaces. Some excel under pressure; others require less stress to reach peak performance.
My message is: Don’t change the women, change the workplace. If the workplace is brain-friendly, it will naturally attract a more diverse set of people.