Reflection & Patterns

How to Train Your Brain Like you Would Teach a Child

A few years ago I worked for Children’s Services as a Family Support Worker. I taught boundary-setting skills, educated parents and schools on brain development, and essentially used all the brain-training hacks I’d learned in my degrees.

I didn’t have children at the time, but I was paid to support parents with… parenting.

Let’s say I met quite a bit of resistance, but I did my research and I knew my ‘stuff.’ My colleagues, with children of their own, or even just looking old enough to have children, were not questioned as I was. These days, I would let the results speak for themselves, but I’m a bit of a scholar. So instead, I did the research, and I quoted it at them.

But the more experience I have of living as a human being in this world, the more connections I see between the “how to parent” advice, and the neurobiology of a human thriving at *any age*… So many of those “hack your goals” or “habits of highly successful people” follows the same patterns of the behaviour I was trained to encourage as a support worker.

So. Let’s think about how this can be applied to brain-training in your life.

Applying the Lessons

For example, a key focus in parenting classes for toddlers and school-aged children is that of structure and routines: of giving the child some sense of stability and predictability.

No humans like uncertainty, and the way we slowly forget to give ourselves at least some semblance of structure always fascinates me.

Think about your general daily routines.

brain-training-teaching-child

Do you have a ‘bedtime’ aim? Do you have meals around the same time? How about a set of tasks you do the same each morning to get ready for the day?

Yet, programming our bodies with these kinds of primers can be so helpful in feeling well, rested and balanced across our days.

Of course, we all have different levels of structure that works for us. Some people are night owls while others are morning larks, so it pays to reflect on which routines will best support you in your daily life.

Similarly, when you make goals, do you give yourself reminders, reward the positive actions, and review your progress regularly, like you would with a child’s sticker chart? Do you renew your commitment often? Because that seems to be one of the most common themes in the science of success.

Physical Space

Everything from setting daily routines to how we organise our physical space to can be applied to adults, and although the aspects often have different names, the concepts are often shared by highly successful people.

I’d like you to think about a pre-school classroom. If you’ve not seen one lately, any school setting from a movie should do the trick. 

What makes it easy for the children and teacher to navigate the space?

Often, there might be set “zones” for items. The dressing-up clothes are in a carpeted area in the corner, beside… you guessed it… the dressing up clothes.

In order to make things simple for a child, there are set rules and structure to their day:

  • Time for Dressing Up
  • Area to Dress-up In
  • Dressing up items kept in/near to that area
  • Defined end-point of Dressing up time
  • Expectation and clear space to put clothes away

Computer Simulations

I’m old enough to remember the original Sims video game, where you would ‘play god’ for some unsuspecting humans, choosing how they spend their days and trying to keep them healthy and happy (at least, most of the time).

One of the key understandings to make that game less stressful, if trying to keep everyone in a positive place, was the idea of flow in the house, which benefited the character’s energy levels.

In the kitchen, for example, I would follow the following order:
Fridge, workspace, cooker, workspace, workspace, sink, with the bin close-by.

Why does this matter?

Because if the simulated characters couldn’t do the next “task in their to-do list” it expended extra energy, and they became grumpy.

The typical ‘cooking’ act following the same steps:

1. Remove item from fridge

2. Chop items on work surface

3. Boil items in pan

4. Serve on plates (workspace 2)

5. Stand to eat/eat at table, then return to put dirty dishes beside sink (work space 3) or immediately wash up.

By organising the environment around my characters to follow their ‘flow’ of the tasks, I could keep them happier and more energised.

Flow is Important

We think about this with children, and with electronic people… why don’t we consider this idea for ourselves? Across the brain-training manuals, goal-setting worksheets and my neuroscience degrees, this wasn’t a clear area mentioned to consider.

How can we harness this?

  • Firstly, consider where you want to improve your flow, what aspect of brain-training you want to alter.
  • Place similar aspects together: put your gym bag by the door so you don’t forget it, or set a reminder to review your goals when you’d already be looking at your phone.
  • Consider how you arrange your physical and digital space. Re-arrange the furniture, if necessary, and watch how your sense of flow changes.

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