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Can we maximise our brain power and the brain power of the people we work with?

Ingrid Ashwin asks a psychiatrist, an academic, a medical doctor, business consultant, coach and a neuroscientist how we can maximise our brain power to perform to our best potential.

Dr Tara Swart says, “In a knowledge economy people are paid to use their brains to face constant change, so learning and adaptability have become synonymous with success.” It is her mission to spread simple, pragmatic neuro-science based messages that change the way people work and to make the world of work a happier place.

Most of our New Year’s resolutions are typically about our physical, social and financial wellbeing. These were identified as the most common personal New Year’s resolutions in 2015?

  1. Spend more time at the gym.
  2. Spend more time with family & friends.
  3. Tame the bulge.
  4. Enjoy life more.
  5. Quit smoking.
  6. Quit drinking.
  7. Get out of debt.
  8. Learn something new.
  9. Help Others

10.Get Organised.

Similarly, we return to work with bold and altruistic ambitions that typically focus on ways to increase sales, reduce costs, improve productivity, grow our customer base and build shareholder value.

What then about our mental and emotional wellbeing? What we do know, is that we pay attention to our bodies, friends and family, career, financial and business performance.  However do we fail to consciously take care of our brain power?  To establish if we are paying enough attention to maximise our brain power, I sought the advice of a Neuroscientist, a psychiatrist, an Academic and a Medical Doctor.

  1. IA: “How do our New Year’s resolutions typically stack up when it comes to taking sufficient care of our Brain Power?”

This is what she said.

  1. TS: “By connecting your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual capital you explore the interplay between nerves, hormones and burnout.

As a psychiatrist and business coach, I believe that helping others, having positive rewarding relationships and enjoying life certainly contribute to our sense of meaning and purpose.

And then as a neuroscientist I have shown how learning something new will help you grow new neurons from embryonic nerve cells and is most likely in the case of a new skill which requires cognitive stimulation like a new language or playing a musical instrument, in particular something you don’t have a natural talent for. Getting organised and getting out of debt is about reducing your stress levels.  Whether this is financial or social as in loneliness.”

Q: IA  “What then is the missing link to develop your brain power?”

A: TS. “It boils down to consciously changing your mindsets and applying focus and attention coupled with deliberate practice to get your brain to look at the way you do things differently. It is only by changing your mindset that you can affect real change to achieve your desired behavioural change and ultimately fulfil your New Years’ Resolutions.

I use applied neuroscience to work with top teams to explore responses for stress and how to stimulate behaviour change to keep the brain agile and resilient in stressful situations. Whether I apply my knowledge of neuroscience, psychiatry or business performance it always boils down to meaning and purpose.”


  1. Drink green tea and take omega oils to give your neurons a boost.
  2. Get yourself and your people enrolled to learn a new skill which will create new pathways and grow new neurons from embryonic nerve cells.
  3. Find meaning and purpose in the work you and your people do.
  4. Handle failure with kid gloves to control cortisol levels. To fail is shame inducing and painful. Failure causes the prefrontal cortex to fire off all sorts of pain signals.
  5. Celebrate the small wins and achieve frequent aha moments of surprise and delight. Aha moments guide towards step changes in innovation.
  6. Empathy is free. Exhibit authentic empathy. This is the neurological basis of personal and professional engagement to build trust. It creates an emotional resonance loop between the two brains on several levels and more importantly transforms the frozen state of threat avoidance into creativity, open communication and high performance.
  7. Keep it real. Beware of the fine line between authentic interest and manipulation. The people you interact with have a gut instinct and motivation centres will alert them to the latter.
  8. Harness the instinctive tendency for people to co-operate which is deeply embedded in our brains.
  9. Pre-tox advice = Sleep + Nutrition + Hydration + Exercise + Mindfulness. To increase your brain power you need sleep. I recommend caffeine free intake from 14h00. Rooibos is a great alternative.

10.Practice makes perfect. With each time you practice a new behaviour new links between neurons and new pathways grow stronger.

And finally advice to manage your stress in a world of cyber clutter.

On the 18th March 2015, Dr Tara Swart, a medical doctor, neuroscientist, psychiatrist, MIT Faculty member and global consultant to C Suite Executives, will present her latest findings in respect of Neuroscience for Leadership at The Progress Conference at The Forum, Campus Bryanston.

For further information visit: Our Website or


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