Life H.A.C: Change your brain, Change your life

TougherMinds, a UK based consulting firm provides award-winning, practical, effective and highly engaging training to help everybody improve resilience, well-being and personal performance. Dr. Jon Finn, Founder of TougherMinds, shares a simple way that you can H.A.C your life: taking control of your brain to improve wellness and resilience.

Truth is, we all victims of today’s “attention economy,” says Finn, and it’s quickly changing the way we think, the way we work, and they way we connect with others. Human attention is a limited resource; our brain can only handle so much information at one time, before becoming saturated and ineffective.

Today, more than ever, attention exhausts quickly as platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Gmail quickly deplete our reserves. Further, the underlining issue at stake in today’s “attention economy” is that what we pay attention to, ultimately dictates our habits, our health, and our happiness. So, ask yourself: are you using your attention wisely? 

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Dr. Finn offers an explanation drawing from neuroscience to illuminate how our brain works, and how we can improve our thinking and behavior.

Dr. Finn explains that there are two core areas of the brain that are foundational to forming and maintaining habits. The red area is our limbic region of the brain, and the blue area is our prefrontal cortex. To succeed, one must re-train the red and empower the blue.

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The red area of the brain, nicknamed by Finn’s group as our A.P.E brain, is concerned with three main things: staying alive, others perception os us (i.e. self-image), and energy. Our A.P.E brain is very dominant and in charge of forming routine habits for survival and development, such as: eating, breathing, thinking, speaking, reading, etc. These habits are learned and well practiced; we routinely engage in them, unconsciously, to keep us alive and functioning.

While A.P.E brain is core to survival, it’s power and dominance can at times be negative, producing “horribly unhelpful emotions” that create unhelpful habits like worrying, procrastination, and stress. Stuck in today’s “attention economy” our A.P.E brain is more active than ever, buzzing from social media and consumer industries that zap our cognitive resources and allow our A.P.E brain to make impulsive, unmotivated, and hurtful decisions. Consequently, it is imperative that we 'retrain' our brain to gain a purposeful mindset development.

And, here’s how!

Jim McKenna, Professor of Physical Activity and Health at Leeds Beckett University and TougherMinds Behavior Change Consultant, shares insight on how we can build and empower our pre-frontal cortex, or our H.A.C. brain, “helpful attention control" to take back control. Society feeds us millions of bits of information a day, yet it is our job to filter this information and determine what is helpful for us to attend to. What information will make us better, happier, healthier, and more productive?

Just like we train our bodies, exercising to strengthen and tone our muscles, the same is required for our brain. The brain is composed of many muscles, and the more we train these muscles, the stronger and more resilient they are in forming wise, healthy habits.

Here's your new routine...

“Me Power Conditioning”

Step 1: Name your internal script. Think: what do you say to yourself when you brush your teeth in the morning, when you walk to work or sit on the L? Do you the same things repeat themselves over and over in your head, or do new thoughts pop in? What themes appear in this discourse? Does it make you feel happy, or does it drain your energy? 

Chances are, you can probably only recall very little. Most of us fail to pay attention to what is being said in the unconscious cavities of our brain and instead remain glued to our devices. While we do hear our internal script, because it affects our emotions and actions, we rarely stop to appropriately recognize it or name it.

It's time to put a leash on you A.P.E brain, take back control, and start paying attention to what's going on internally, both mind and body. 

Step 2:  Attend to what’s helpful. To progress towards goals, it’s important to pay attention to what’s helpful in achieving tasks and avoid distractors. However, what's helpful isn't always positive. At times, what's most helpful, is also most uncomfortable or hard to deal with. Yet, negative emotions can teach us a lot about who we are. Dr. Finn provides anger as an example and explains: “If the right attention is paid towards a situation that caused anger, then anger can be a helpful emotion, and further a helpful attention.”

Step 3: Harness Vital Habits. The body thrives on nutrition, rest, and exercise. Therefore, it’s important to never cut corners when it comes to eating right, sleeping, and maintaining fitness. One must assign simple, clear actions to eating, sleeping, and exercising daily.  

For example, it’s not enough to tell yourself that, “tonight, I’ll go to bed early.” That's not clear. Instead, it is important to write in your planner that at 9pm, it’s bedtime. And then stick to it!

While seemingly simple, changing habits requires intense concentration and restraint. One slip up and you start back at the beginning. TougherMinds offers a Habit Program and H.A.C manuals for purchase, that can help you create your own ‘invisible forces’ to ensure that you are on track, paying careful attention to what’s important and necessary to perform optimally.


Ready to change your brain?

Honing in and training vital habits like eating, sleeping, and exercising can help you be at your best. While it takes effort and work, a fundamental component of human happiness is personal progress, or eudemonia; pro-actively striving to better oneself to achieve personal goals and fulfillment.


Within each of us lies a drive towards happiness.

We must attend wisely to form healthy habits that matter most.



Positive Practice

  • Next time you commute to work, take a minute and pay attention to your internal script.  How may it be impacting your emotion and action, both at home, with friends, and at work?
  • In the next high pressure situation you find yourself in, make a list of the information and actions that would be most helpful in solving the challenge and achieving success. Use that list to pay attention to only what's helpful. 
  • Pick one vital habit: eating, sleeping, or exercising. For a week, focus on taking specific, clear, healthy steps to maintain that habit. 



Special thanks to Jim McKenna for sharing valuable insights and resources in creating this post.