Sort your brain out!

Gooooooooood morning, Amsterdam!!! Although OgilvyChange keynote Jez Groom resembled our beloved Robin Williams the most, it actually was Jack Lewis PhD who kick-started our brains, thus nominating himself for the Best Actor in Leading Role Award at the EphMRA 2015 Conference. He definitely was not the first guy ever to shout loudly in this room, as we enjoy our sessions in the magnificent interior of the Graanbeurszaal in Beurs van Verlage, which was housing the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in the golden 17th century.
Both gentlemen definitely stretched our brains (both halves of it!) and we certainly will be doing some things differently going forward, even if these changes may appear trivial to the ignorant beholder. Like scrubbing our dirty oven when waking up at 3:59AM to punish our mind for waking up at such an unreasonably early time, trying to trick it into never doing it again. So don’t you scroll through those fun Facebook updates and put that great book out of reach in the middle of the night! It will lead to chronic sleep deprivation and sleep is like a washing machine for our brain. If you don’t clean it thoroughly and regularly, you will be doomed to annoying your bystanders with chatter, lethargy, irritability, making hasty decisions… and die prematurely in the end.
Sleep is the message! For beauty and brains. A catnap in the afternoon is now also allowed officially. In fact, your boss should provide desk sleeping bags for seat siestas. The return on cognitive performance will be worthwhile. And there are no excuses for not working out in company time. We need to pump our brain, break a sweat for about 20 minutes a day. It’s a way of squeezing into your favourite pair of jeans, but also much required to air your brain. When at rest, the brain only weighs 2% of our total body mass, yet it consumes half the available oxygen and glucose to do its job when under stress.
We are so good at stress. Some of us master several devices, many are enslaved by them, multi-screening multi-tasking their brain into oblivion. A brain needs to be in very good shape to cope with more than two distractors simultaneously and still keep task performance high. So do yourself, your brain and your boss a favour and choose more consciously when you will allow desk distraction and when you’ll be doing some superior brain lifting. That may be on your rollerblades outdoors after lunch or while leaning forward with a post-it on the back of your head (do not disturb, cleaning my brain). Set your own mnemonic clock and sort your brain out!
Speaking of lunch: food for the body is food for the brain, yet too much of anything is good for nothing. One of many wisdoms passed on by @DrJackLewis is ‘Hara Hachi Bu’, a Confucian teaching that instructs people to stop eating when they are 80% full (and FYI: Okinawa, where Hara Hachi Bu is practiced, has the world’s highest percentage of people living in good health beyond the age of 100). Lucky me, my system-1 brain spontaneously pulled out that piece of knowledge over lunch at about 60% of fullness, leaving just enough room for a delicious waffle sponsored by our kind SKIM colleagues.
After fulfilling my basic needs, Nicole Drake (Director Client Solutions at SKIM) fed my system-2 brain with her mobile health care professional research case, with the thought-provoking title ‘When physicians get emotional’. During her 5 minutes of fame on the ‘soap box’ (nice new format, @EphMRA!) Nicole shared some strong views on the future of mobile and referred to much more on this in their freshly published Quirk’s article. Enjoy your treats for mouth and mind. In summary: the closer we can capture an observation to the actual event – in the case of a doctor prescribing a treatment to a patient – the better the chance of revealing true in-the-moment drivers behind choices made.
We also learned from Dr Jack that reading can protect our brain against degeneration. So if you are in need of more summer literature to train your brain when tanning, you’ll discover more on system-1 and system-2 thinking in Daniel Kahneman’s New York Times’ bestseller ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. Not much of a reader? 5 minutes of mindfulness at 9AM (be it in your deck chair or in your desk chair) may also do the required brain stretch for you. Breathe in for 7 and out for 11 seconds. Keep calm and repeat. Thomas Edison had a way of quieting his conscious brain to grab the butterflies that bubbled up from his unconscious brain. May you see your own light more often!
And rest assured, no matter how hard you try to control your brain, it will trick you more often than not. Which game board square has the lightest shade, A or B? Print it, cut them out and you’ll see they are exactly the same colour. Jez Groom (Chief Choice Architect at #Ogilvychange) does not consider these brain spins to be a bad thing. We just need to dare and be more trivial more frequently, tricking people’s brains into displaying the right behaviour without talking to their brain’s right half.
Behavioural neuroscience applied in the healthcare practice? Think medication non-adherence (most simply defined as the number of doses not taken or taken incorrectly that jeopardizes the patient’s therapeutic outcome and causes a multi-billion-dollar annual revenue loss for the pharmaceutical industry). We must invest a lot of time and resources into developing information materials to educate patients (addressing system 2) on the importance of treatment adherence. But what if we could simply trick them into the desired (system-1 driven) behaviour by for instance chunking their pill supply into different differently coloured bottles that have a strong signalling function and gamify improved intake? An intuitive action should not be inferior to a reasoned one.
More HealthPrize-winning patient adherence examples in this Cap Gemini Consulting paper. I leave it to you to read through the details yourself as part of the personal brain train program you unconsciously engaged in by making it all the way here in this blogpost. Those still willing to risk an early onset of Alzheimer’s or just prefer to play music over literature to play their grey mass, just remember from Jez’ talk that ‘a trivial intervention can increase adherence by 21% at minimal cost’ and be mindful to mine your own mind-blowing ideas.
And to somewhat comfort you and have peace with your cerebral control room: yes, you can train your brain to be more powerful and have reason rule out emotion now and again. But don’t be fooled: you cannot switch off system 1! So if you want to eat less, buying smaller plates may be a well-considered choice rather than diet literature.
Thank you, @EphMRA, for this thought-provoking 2015 edition! And special gratitude to Carl Vandeloo (UCB) for presenting our paper together on stage, to David Hanlon (Kantar Health) for sharpening the story with us and chairing our session and, last but not least, to the lovely Caroline Snowdon (EphMRA) for all the support on this journey! And a warm invite to all of you to come and feed your brain on one of our own upcoming Smartees events.

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