As consultants, our experience is that individuals, teams and organisations can really benefit from some of the work being done in neuroscience, but it needs to be applied neuroscience.

When we advise organisations or deliver training on how best to apply current research we stress the value of having some rudimentary understanding of how the brain works. Why? Because it’s much more efficient and much easier to work with the brain rather than trying to force things. That’s why when we look at current practice – or proposed change – there is one question we always ask: is this way of doing things neuro-effective™?  It’s a really simple question and it always guides us toward best practice.

Applying neuroscience learning

Having created and delivered the Applied Neuroscience Programme for the last 5 years, we have been inspired by how people have taken the neuroscience research and applied it with hugely successful results. These people have definitely become more neuro-effective™.

Professional applications of neuroscience

We have been particularly struck by the extraordinary range of immediate applications. By way of example people have applied the material to:

  • Considering how witnesses might best be helped to report crimes as accurately as possible.
  • Helping an organisation develop a more creative and innovative culture.
  • Helping athletes remove obstacles so they can train to their full capacity by sharing a model that increases people’s motivation to train.
  • Giving NHS staff better coping strategies when dealing with people with dementia.
  • Working with an IT team to help them improve their presentation skills.
  • Helping managers learn better delegation skills.
  • Developing a new approach to co-operation, collaboration and commitment within an organisation through a better understanding of how we make decisions
  • Teaching a group how to improve their own resilience in a group coaching session.

In all these professional applications there’s a pattern we are seeing repeated. Providing people with information on what can change within the brain and how we can make this happen has a powerful impact on what individuals and teams believe is possible. When you then offer them practical neuroscience tools to implement this research people are remarkably ready to have a go.

Personal applications of neuroscience

Not surprisingly the same holds true for people in their personal lives. Many times this has meant people have new ways of helping their children – and themselves!  A couple of examples:

  • Changing their children’s willingness to do chores at home by making reward structures more effective.
  • Helping teenage children to study more effectively.

Sometimes just learning about the neural benefits of particular activities is enough to motivate a person. We’re reminded of a couple of people who, when they learnt about the neural benefits of meditation, were motivated to return to a daily meditation practice with subsequent benefits for their stress levels and resilience. And then there are the people who realise they’ve got far more creative potential than they’d previously tapped into.

Helping others

So often learning a little about what’s really going on in your brain can be extraordinarily empowering:

A therapist was able to help clients with anxiety through developing a better understanding of the neuroscientific nature of anxiety, and by giving them some techniques to reduce anxiety that are part of the programme.

A coach was able to help people become less nervous about public speaking by telling them about the systems in the brain that control our emotional responses.  Understanding how the brain reacts when we are challenged allowed these individuals to create better coping strategies when they presented.

These applications all arise from the five main topic areas covered in the programme, which are:

  • Emotional Regulation and Motivation
  • Creativity and Insight
  • Learning and Memory
  • Decision Making and Planning
  • Stress, Resilience and Contemplation

You could say if you’ve got a brain, applied neuroscience is going to be useful. We’ve come to the conclusion that the list of applications is almost endless. We’ll leave you with a particularly enterprising one.

One person took ideas from the first module back to their organisation, demonstrated their practical value to the Managing Director. Result?  The MD agreed to pay for the programme!

Authors: Ian McDermott and Patricia Riddell, Professor of Applied Neuroscience