Work smarter by honing your mental focus

Tips for unleashing the full potential of the mind

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Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Would you like to increase your performance by 34 percent today? Is the idea of accomplishing tasks more quickly and with fewer mistakes appealing?

If so, the latest research on brain functionality and performance reveals surprising facts that can help you accomplish more with less effort.

I recently spoke at the Banff Western Connection 2013 Conference. John Medina, a molecular biologist, keynoted along with hypnotist Mike Mandel. While this may seem odd for a real estate conference, both speakers provided a tremendous wealth of data on the latest behavioral research and how it influences human performance.

Below are some key points from their talks.

1. It’s not snake oil

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What is one substance that allows you to learn up to six times faster, adjusts your cholesterol, increases your intelligence, and improves your sleep? Mandel said the research clearly demonstrates that this is Omega 3 fatty acid. Apparently, humans get plenty of Omega 6 and 9 in their food, but we tend to have low levels of Omega 3. The best place to get Omega 3 is in fish oil, but look for brands that screen for mercury.

2. The pea-brain steering the 747

Many years ago, George Miller formulated what is known as the Magic Seven Theory. This references the fact that our short-term memory (that of which we are conscious) can only hold about seven pieces of information. The Magic Seven Theory explains why we have seven-digit license plates and phone numbers. When there is more than seven bits of information, our conscious minds have to chunk it back to seven bits to remember it.

Now compare this to our unconscious brain, which is processing up to 1 trillion bits of information every minute. The best way to illustrate the difference between the two is to recall when you learned to drive. Part of the reason it was so difficult was that you were trying to process how to drive using your conscious brain. Once you mastered the driving process, however, the unconscious or automatic part of your brain took over the task.

Mandel said research shows that it takes 66 days to establish a habit. In other words, when you start using a new prospecting tool for the first time or when your MLS changes systems, it will take you 66 days of continuous practice before that activity moves to the automatic part of your brain where it becomes a habit.

3. Multi-tasking is a myth

When you ask a group of people how many of them can multi-task, almost every one of them raises their hand. The truth is that because of the way the brain is wired, multi-tasking is impossible.

Medina pointed to studies about a specific area of the brain called "Broadman’s Area 10," nicknamed "Mother" by neuroscientists. What’s interesting about Mother is that she can only do one conscious process at a time. It takes Mother 0.7 seconds to shift gears from one task to another. In other words, you’re not multi-tasking, you’re shifting back and forth between tasks. According to Medina, when Mother is confused about what is required, you get ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.)

The cost of task shifting is extremely high. Some research suggests that when you interrupt one activity to answer a phone call, respond to a text message, or look at a Facebook notification for 30 seconds, it takes you a full five minutes to regain full concentration. Other studies show that when people attempt to multi-task, it takes them twice as long to complete both tasks, and they make 50 percent more errors.

An extremely dangerous example of this is texting and driving. In most states, the blood alcohol level at which someone is considered to be intoxicated is 0.08 percent. When you text and drive, your reaction time is the same as someone who is driving with a blood alcohol level that is 50 percent higher than the legal limit — 0.12 percent.

A major part of the challenge when texting and driving is that not only are you confusing Mother by attempting to task shift, you are also changing "rule sets." Texting requires different motor skills compared to driving, which makes switching back and forth between those tasks even more difficult.

What can you do to improve your performance and keep Mother happy? The approach is simple. Time block. If you are doing a complex task, schedule 20 minutes at a time without interruptions.

A simple way to do this is to use your phone’s "do not disturb" feature (you can also use "airplane mode"). When you hit your 20 minutes, pop your phone back on, respond to whatever you must, and then move into the next 20-minute time block.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success." Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named "new and notable" by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com. You can contact her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com or @BRoss on Twitter.

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