Our brains control almost all of our thoughts, emotions, actions and reactions. For instance, the thought of wanting to get ahead in one’s career originates in the brain. The actions that we take (or do not take) to turn that thought into reality are governed by the brain. But while all brains may be created more or less equal at birth, some people nourish and exercise their brains to make them grow stronger while others do little to grow the brain beyond its natural progression.

“To be an agent of disruption, first, we must become its subject, and that starts with understanding how our brains work.”

To learn more about how we can tune our brains for peak performance, I invited Dr. Tara Swart to speak with me on the Disrupt Yourself podcast. Tara is highly accomplished; she’s a neuroscientist (Ph.D.), a psychiatric doctor (MD), a senior lecturer at MIT and King’s College London, and an executive advisor to business leaders throughout the world.

Interestingly, Tara’s life is a classic case of self disruption. She was born in London to Indian immigrant parents who, stereotypically, expected her to become either a doctor or a lawyer. At first, she went along the path laid out for her, and became a doctor.

Then, in her mid-thirties, she thought, “This was never actually what I wanted to do, and I’ve never really thought about what I really want to do.” She recognized that she was on a good S-curve as a doctor, but that it wasn’t the right S-curve for her. She needed to jump to a new S-curve.

At first, she was nervous about giving up her comfortable career as a doctor, so she started having conversations with people who had changed jobs but was held back by the false belief that because she was a doctor, her options were limited.

It literally took two years for the pathway in her brain to build up to the point where she decided, “I’m going to quit medicine and do something else.”

So, Tara set out to disrupt herself from being a doctor to being an entrepreneur and building her own executive coaching practice, where she could use a lot of her skills as a psychiatrist.

The transition wasn’t easy. She had a bit of an identity crisis at first, especially when she started to run out of money with no monthly paycheck to fall back on. But she was adamant about not going back to being a doctor even if she had to struggle. She was 100% committed to her disruptive move, and is happy that she never looked back when the going got tough. She attributes her ultimate success to luck, a lot of hard work, and “a very strong focus on just continually moving forward with the thing that I wanted to do.”

In conversation with me, Tara shares key actionable ideas that can condition our brains into achieving the things we most want – health, happiness, wealth, and love.

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • Neuroplasticity, a relatively new concept in neuroscience, has debunked a lot of misconceptions (such as – your brain can’t really grow past the age of 18). It has shown that till the age of 25, the brain actively molds and shapes itself in response our experiences, learnings, interactions and emotions. Then, after the age of 25, we need to metaphorically make our brains sweat by doing things that mentally challenge one’s brain to make it grow through neuroplasticity. And it’s all relative; what’s hard for one may not be hard for another, and that’s okay. What matters is that you challenge your brain to do things that are hard for you. Tara cites experimental cooking and gardening as great ways of inducing neuroplasticity.
  • In her book, Tara describes six neural pathways that you must exercise to grow your brain:
    • Mastering your emotions
    • Knowing yourself, which is listening to the brain body connection
    • Trusting your gut, which is accessing your intuition or inner wisdom
    • Making good decisions, which is using your logical brain pathway
    • Staying motivated and resilient to achieve your goals, and
    • Creativity, which is using all of those other brain pathways to manifest the real world outcomes that you desire.
  • If you get your brain firing on all six cylinders, you’ll go from feeling passive (like you’re not in control and are merely reacting to what life throws at you) to being much more proactive and doing things that are far more likely to help you achieve your goals and aspirations.
  • Mastering your emotions: Often, our emotions get the better of us and we react in ways that we later regret. To be more in control, Tara recommends journaling what triggers these outbursts and then reviewing your journal to find historical patterns. This can help you consciously control your reaction the next time you’re in a similar situation, and not make things worse. She calls this an exercise in “reviewing your ghosts from the past”.
  • Prime your brain with a “vision board”: Left to itself, the brain’s selective filtering mechanism focuses on things that are crucial to survival, and relegates everything else to the background. A vision board is a collage of images that visually reminds your brain about the things that you really want in life.
  • In this exercise, place images that resonate with your goals in positions that mean something to you on a board, and do this till your vision board feels complete. Then, watch your vision board before you sleep at night to psychologically prime your subconscious on what matters most to you. In the days that follow, you’ll find yourself paying far more attention to things related to your vision board, and recognizing and grabbing opportunities that you may otherwise have ignored. Step by step, this will move you closer to achieving your goals.

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