In the early 1990′s, a team of scientists at the University of Parma made an amazing discovery.
Observing macaque monkeys, they noticed a certain group of neurons in their brains fired not only when a monkey performed an action, such as grabbing a banana from a tree, but also when a monkey watched someone else perform the same action.
Monkey see, monkey do and Eureka! Mirror Neurons were born.
What Are Mirror Neurons?
A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires when an action is observed. The interesting thing is that it’s the same set of neurons that fire when the action is actually being done.
Basically the neuron ‘mirrors’ the behavior of the action being observed, simulating the experience in one’s brain. Mirror neurons can be triggered by what you see, hear, or read.
The point of debate is whether or not these mirror neurons translate to actual meaning, association, or both. Either way, they appear to be essential in our ability to understand one another’s feelings, emotions, and behaviors.
What’s The Value?
The discovery of mirror neurons opens up a couple of intriguing real world applications.
Mirror neurons can be utilized for imitation and guiding behavior through action.
For example, when one person yawns, someone who sees this is soon yawning themselves. This same idea can be applied in various situations. Suppose you’re going to an interview or giving a presentation, putting on your best smile can be contagious to others and raise the spirits of everyone involved.
When we mirror other people with intent, it can be an important part of building rapport and nurturing feelings of understanding.
By seeing that mirror neurons allow us to comprehend feelings through sight and sound, one can use this information to better communicate with their audience.
Writers, directors, advertisers and others can utilize this research to make their stories even more powerful, as they uncover associations between what we observe and how we feel.
Other value, such as its benefit in treating learning disorders and being the key to empathy are largely hypothetical, but could lead to more breakthroughs in the future.
In the end, mirror neurons are an interesting discovery in the human mind and something we can be aware of in our daily lives.
You’re completely immersed in the task at hand, your ideas arrive one after the other, and everything is coming together perfectly. You see the path forward with clarity and the more you work the more excited you get.
You’ve lost track of time, you’re tired, and haven’t eaten in awhile, but nothing is distracting you from your work.
You’re in the zone, you’re in a state of Flow.
What Is Flow
According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (I have no idea how to pronounce that), flow is described as follows:
“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
The key to flow is being in the correct work state, which makes all the difference in how productive you are. These work states are broken down into 8 regions that are reached based on the challenge and skill level being engaged.
You can see the 8 work states below and how they related to each other.
Your work state is determined by the level of skill being used and challenge being faced; flow is achieved when you have the highest skill level and challenge to engage with.
You can adjust your activities to enter the appropriate work state, as the key is having a challenge that is difficult, but still attainable based on your skill level.
For example, if you find yourself doing something very challenging, but don’t quite have the skills yet, you’d be in the Arousal State. In this situation, you’re challenging your curiosity and developing your skills. You could either attain the skill level you need or take on a slightly less difficult challenge for which your skills are better matched.
As you can see, it’s all about the balance between challenge and skill.
How To Achieve Flow
1. Challenge/Skill Balance: Find something challenging for you, that you enjoy doing, and that you have the skills to be successful at. Too easy and you’ll be bored. Too difficult and you’ll be frustrated.
2. Set Clear Goals/Tasks: You need to know what you want to accomplish. Understanding the tasks and goals makes it easier for you to progress as you engage in the activity.
3. Focus Like A Laser: You must focus on that task at hand, no distractions, no divided attention. The task is your one and only goal and everything else should be shut out.
4. Allocate Enough Time: If you’re trying to achieve flow, you need to give yourself enough time, not only to enter it (which takes about 15 minutes according to research), but to take advantage of it once you’re there.
5. Good Energy: You want to have enough energy to tackle the challenge you’re facing, but also have a clear mind that won’t be distracted or stressed about other parts of your life.
6. Drop The Ego: The activity should be meaningful for it’s own sake, it’s all about creating and NOT specifically the outcome. There should be no fear of failure or anxiety. It’s all about the process.
Want to know more? Check out the book and TED Talk by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.
Sugata Mitra won the 2013 TED Prize and his Prize Wish was to design a school in the cloud. A lofty idea, but one that is certainly attainable based on his research. Check out the talk below.
A few points that I found especially of interest from the talk.
Our Education Model Is Obsolete
As he mentions, many have said that the educational system is broken, but truly it is just obsolete. We’ve been using a model that has been practiced through the ages, while only slowly implementing the technologies and information that is now easily available. It’s time for the education model to evolve.
The True Role of Teachers
Another surprising revelation was the true value of teachers and how they should engage students. The combination of teachers only needing to guide the conversations and be more focused on encouraging students is a drastic departure from the current role of teachers, but one that may be required to progress down a new path.
Finally, Dr. Mitra shares his model of Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), as the ideal way for students to learn. By simplying having an internet enabled computer, collaboration among students, and a teacher to simply guide/encourage the process, Dr. Mitra creates a unique and effective way to educate the masses.
Overall, the talk had some amazing insights and major ideas that will only push the education conversation in the right direction. What did you think?
There are two ways to get work done: the sprint and the marathon.
This approach is basically putting in a lot of hours in a short period of time (aka all-nighters). You get a lot done, but you sacrifice your sleep, your diet, and basically everything else to do it. It’s an effective short term approach, but only intermittently because of it’s draining effects.
The Sprint is often deployed when there’s a high level of urgency and time pressure for getting your work done. Recovery time is typically equally as long as the sprint, as you’re overcome by pure exhaustion.
Alternatively, you can take the slower approach that’s more sustainable in the long term. You’re still putting in a good amount of time (~10 hours/day), but you also leave time to live a normal life and get enough sleep.
The marathon only works well if you’re good at managing your time and being disciplined with your work. As you’re able to get sleep during marathons, recovery is not nearly as difficult, but even so, you should still take a vacation now and then to fully recharge your batteries.
Sprinting The Marathon
Do not do this. Essentially this would be going on little to no sleep for an extended period of time. That’s a guaranteed one way ticket to burn out.
Recovering from this type of approach would not be easy and probably detrimental to your health. Not worth it.
Marathoning? The Sprint
Pretty sure that’s not a word, BUT this would be the perfect combination, bringing together the urgency of the sprint and applying it to the routine of the marathon.
This would probably spell the end of procrastination in our lives, but easier said than done.