Episode 23 Our Personal EF Hacks: Inhibitory Control - The Personal Brain Trainer Podcast

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Our Personal EF Hacks Inhibitory ControlA man thinking about his inhibitory control hacks

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Full Transcript for Episode 22

Welcome to the Personal Brain Trainer Podcast.

I'm Dr. Erica Warren and I'm Darius Namdaran and we're your hosts.  Join us on an adventure to translate the scientific jargon and brain research into simple metaphors and stories for everyday life.  We explore executive functions and learning strategies that help turbocharge the mind. Come learn how to steer around the invisible barriers so that you can achieve your goals.  This podcast is ideal for parents, educators, and learners of all ages.

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What are we going to talk about today?

Hey Darius, we're going to be talking about our personal executive functioning.

Hacks for inhibitory control.

Yeah, because last week we did working memory and we're following the three-part process, 33 main elements of executive function.

Working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility.

So inhibitory control.

Why don't you give us a quick overview of what inhibitory control is before we go into the acts inhibitory control is really your ability to inhibit what's going on around you so that you can focus your attention.

It also has to do with emotional regulation as well.

So, it's kind of everything to do with attention.

It also has to do with meta cognition.

So, what kind of hacks do we have to help us to manage our attention, manage our emotions and help us with meta cognition.

 , it's interesting that every time we talk about this it's like we walk around the topic and get a 3 60 you move from a slightly different angle and look at it from another angle and it's like a scanner, you build up a bigger picture and a bigger understanding of it and it just made me realize for me inhibitory control is all about focus.

  what you mute out and what you zoom in on and focus.

But then when you think about emotions inhibitory control and emotions can you call that focus?

Can you focus your emotions?

You can manage your emotions, yes, you Can manage your emotions and we've talked about this before, that kind of 92nd role of where you're stuck in an emotion and it might be a very negative emotion, you might be very angry.

But actually, that emotion will only last.

It's a chemical response in our body.

It only lasts 90 seconds unless we feed it.

But the other interesting thing about that emotional control is another piece that I really love that's in the research, and I've found it even personally to be extraordinarily beneficial is that sometimes we're in the emotion and if you want to step out of that emotion, you label it just by labeling it, you're not the emotion, you're observing the emotion.

And as soon as you're observing the emotion, you have more control inhibitory control to be able to reason with that emotion, reason with it and decide whether it's worth staying in that emotion or whether it's worth exiting.

Oh, I see.

So, it's kind of like, oh I'm feeling angry now, why am I feeling angry or whatever?

Just by labeling it gives you more control over or maybe pushes you up to the meta level of metric ignition and makes you start observing it rather than being in, it lifts you above it.

Fantastic.

So, hack number one is label what you're feeling.

Yeah, I mean it really works for me and but it's interesting because if you label it for somebody else, sometimes that feels judgy and they're going to go even deeper into the emotion.

So, what I found another hack is to check with that person to find out what words are comfortable for them.

So, for example, I can remember at one mentioning to somebody that it seems like you're really angry that didn't work, but the word grumpy worked there.

Like, oh, I'm comfortable with that.

So being comfortable with that word is really important because then you can communicate with that person and I know even for myself that's a word that I'll use, I'll say like wow I'm feeling really grumpy but it's you really feel a shift, you feel really significant shift when you say wow, I'm feeling grumpy because then you are you're using that kind of meta cog mission and it really does give you an out and then of course waiting that 90 seconds, even one of my students, she said  , we watched your little 92nd video and she said that was really helpful because this little girl made me really angry in class and she said I counted 90 seconds and she said oh I felt so much better, wow.

So okay, let's just get super practical on this because we're going to go to other hacks, like time blocking and calendars and reminders and so on.

But actually, it's fascinating that inhibitory control the whole emotional aspect is so important to all as well as the focus aspect in that scenario you feel something. You allow yourself to feel it for the 90 seconds and while you're feeling it you label it Well Okay, that's interesting.

You allow yourself to feel it for the 90 seconds while you're still in that wash but as long as you're thinking about it, you're reactivating it and that's another 90 seconds.

Okay, so as long as you're in it, you're going to stay in it.

The only way to get out of it is to not think about it for 90 seconds.

One of the commitments we make in this podcast is to try and turn things into understandable metaphors and the metaphor I'm seeing here is it's like a wave.

Okay, if you're surfing or when you're in the sea, you can go out to the sea, you experience an emotion, it's a wave, it's going to crash, it's going to hit you and it's going to pass, and the key thing is how you respond to that wave.

Do you plant your feet? Do you turn your back?

Do you allow yourself to swim over it?

Do you dive through it?

There’re responses to those waves of emotions and so sort of inhibitory control is kind of like, what could be the term of how do you surf those waves?

Or how do you respond to the waves of emotions that come right.

And I think it's funny, I often use that metaphor of the ocean and  , when you're really stuck in a motion, you're kind of in the ocean, but you can pull yourself up onto a boat or a surfboard and when you pull yourself above it, then you're able to manage it, you're able to use your meta cognitive skills to ride the wave in an appropriate way.

So, you can get to where you want to go then to a raft.

Okay, yeah, so let's get really practical.

I'm going to share some of my hacks.

I explain mind mapping to my students as if mind mapping is like a raft.

Okay, so imagine you have to swim through your, you go to school and you're taught how to swim,   how to read, how to write, these are reading and writing, swimming through information, but I don't resonate with lots of written words are lots of writing, so I like to map and for me, mapping is like a raft, I can go on to it, I can do it all, I can draw branches etcetera, I can connect everything and it's a tool that helps me float on this ocean of information,  ?

And so, in a way with inhibitory control, we often need tools that help us navigate that water, whether it's a raft or uh paddleboard or a motorboat or whatever it is you're choosing as your tool.

So, what kind of tools do you use?

Erica, what's your hacks, inhibitory control popping up for me in this moment is physical, physical hacks in the sense of, I face a wall, so I don't have a lot of visual noise around me.

However, I do have a window that brings in a lot of light above me.

The light is important.

I'm also looking up slightly at my screen which is also supposed to benefit because it keeps you alert and awake so I can look through the window, but I only see the treetops and there's not a lot of distractions there, it's just kind of actually a nice place to look if I want to be thinking so to speak.

And then, on either side, I don't have a lot of movement or issues and that really helps me big time because it really limits the amount of particularly visual noise, auditory noise I deal with because I'm in one end of my house, I can shut my door, I put my dogs outside, I turn off the doggie doorbell, I let everybody know if there are people around I'm going in, please don't disturb me.

So, there are a lot of kind of those physical and preparing the environment when we do these podcasts, I have to make sure that I unplug Alexa, that I turn off my notifications. Even then you'll hear a little bleep. I'm like, where did that come from?

So, it's hard to completely turn everything off.

But the more you can turn off the better I think because you really want to be unit tasking, you don't want to be multitasking anytime you're multitasking or you have visual or auditory distractions, it's really going to get in the way.

So, we've got a bunch of things we've brainstormed, I'm just going to rattle through them so listeners can see what's coming up.

We've got time blocking using a calendar, having what is time blocking.

I absolutely love time blocking time blocking is simply blocking out a certain amount of time on your calendar.

So, the principle is if it's not scheduled it won't get done.

And the principle of time blocking is that to do lists don't help you get stuff done.

They help you remember what to get done.

But time blocking and your calendar does.

So, I think a 25-minute time blocks, a very helpful space of time.

It's a Pomodoro technique where you chunk something down into a block of time that you can get done within that period of time.

You put it in your calendar and then you've got your commitments for the day, and that they're manageable.

Beautiful.

Yeah.

I think the key word there is commitment that you're making a commitment because, sometimes I'll just be bopping around from thing to thing on my to do list.

But that's not always very efficient.

What's better is to really block a very specific time for a very specific thing and not try to, if you're on your way to go do something, don't let those other things that pop up pull you away from that commitment.

Yeah.

So, it's like making an appointment with yourself and I think calendar is very important for me.

I, I don't want to come across like I'm super organized, I am definitely not, I do the minimum organization required not to let people down basically.

And but I find my calendar really more and more useful all the time and I have to, it's an effort of will for me to use the calendar.

I forget to use the calendar and a lot of my clients, I help people adults with dyslexia and ADHD in the UK here and America, but we forget to even open up our calendar and sometimes it's like you need a calendar notification which says open calendar and read at like nine o'clock in the morning or eight a.m.

Or something and it doesn't alert and you're like, oh yeah, I better open up my calendar and read it.

I've gone to the next level.

I've got personal assistant who I sit down with at 9 45 every day and just go for 15 minutes or seven minutes and just say, what are my tasks, what my calendar and I hate doing it.

I love it's great doing it with her.

But it's not natural for me.

I'm a natural improviser, but there's a limit to how much you can cast off inhibitory control and just improvise as you go along because one of the things that I find is I often forget to do the things I really want to do and it's the tyranny of the urgent, isn't it?

The loudest shouting thing gets the squeaky wheel gets oiled, the thing that shouts the most, gets dealt with, but what's important often gets overlooked and this, this leads me on to the Eisenhower Matrix.

I mean, do you use the Eisenhower Matrix?

Have you ever heard of it?

I'm thinking of a Matrix, but I don't know if it's the same one.

So, President Eisenhower, when he organized his time, he would have four segments and he would say important or not important, was the main divider?

Okay, is this important or is this not important?

And then he would decide is it important and urgent or is it important and not urgent?

And then there's other things that are not important and urgent and not important and not urgent.

The one that I'm thinking of is that urgent or not urgent and then don't want to do you want to do?

Yes.

So, the things that you don't want to do and are urgent, you have to do first.

So it's very similar matrix and it's the same idea, but taking that time to look through your list and prioritizing, that's why I like to use google keep because it enables you to kind of pin very quickly or move your tasks around so that you can prioritize them, a lot of them tick tick does that, I'm sure you have some other Yeah, I use a Asana at the moment, I mean it's not perfect, but I use a Asana and so I've got my inbox in a Sana and then from my inbox I have four categories of important, urgent, important, not urgent,  , not important and urgent.

I still haven't found very many things that are not important and urgent those are normally.

Yeah.

Anyway, yeah that's time blocking calendars and wait, I've got to give a shout out to google calendar.

Oh yes, I've fallen in love with it.

I've absolutely fallen in love with it because they've made it better.

I abandoned it for a long time.

These little features that make me so happy.

Oh, go tell.

First of all, it shows you time within the calendar.

So, it draws a little red line of what time it is in your calendar, and you can turn this feature on or have it off.

But when the time goes through the calendar, everything that you finished changes to a lighter color and that just makes me so happy.

I mean I have everything color coded, which is just another huge hack for me because I can see very quickly I have my online sessions or one color my in-person sessions or another my appointments or another.

I have lots of it and it looks really pretty and somehow it takes something that's very visually overwhelming if it's all one color and makes it not overwhelming at all because it really pulls it apart and makes it very logical for me.

So, color coding is a huge hack on google calendar, but I just, and now that you can actually schedule zoom calls and then somebody will send me an appointment if I haven't agreed that I'm going to be attending, it outlines it and when you agree that you're attending it fills it in.

I'm like, wow, this is too awesome.

I love it.

What are the features that you like?

I was with a coaching client yesterday and I was teaching her how to do time blocking on the iPad and she's a complete Mac user and she's like, I use Mac calendar and I'm like, yeah, fair enough.

And I said, do you use the alerts much?

And she says, well no, not really.

Sometimes I forget to do it.

Well let's just set them onto automatic and we put them onto automatic and that's super important.

I would say create automatic alerts in your calendar.

So, whenever you open up, make an event there's automatically alert.

But I realize Apple only allows you one automatic alert.

Whereas google allows you multiple alerts.

So, it will alert you the day before, an hour before three minutes before or whatever combination you want.

And I tend to have it and alert 10 minutes before and alert three minutes before because my time keeping is a little bit off and so that three minutes before is saying to me right, you really need to start,  , getting into the zone right now,  , rather than oh yeah, I'll go do that in a few minutes and I'll be back and then I get caught up in something with my distractive mind.

So, I find the alerts in google calendar really good.

Oh, the other thing that's really cool.

I have to give a shout out to which is a great hack for some people on google keep, which works brilliantly with google calendar by the way and with google docs, all of these, you can kind of open them at the same time in the margins.

It's really wonderful.

But google keep has this feature where you can get reminders based on time or location.

Yeah, that is powerful.

So, when you go to the front door or you're just about to walk out the door, open up and say, have you got your bag, your phone, your rucksack, and your keys?

Yeah.

Or if you're driving by the grocery store, you'll get a pop up, get the coca cola.

Or why did I say that?

I hate coca cola, Get the peas, get the potatoes, sorry, sorry coca cola, but not a fan.

Yeah.

So, I want to talk back to your physical thing because there are all sorts of tools out there to help you maintain your focus and one of those tools, I think is clothing.

Well because I think I don't know if you've ever experienced this, but when you put certain clothes on, your whole mindset and mood can change,  , like if you put your, if I'm going to woodwork mode and I put my word work trousers on and I've got my belt clip on and I've got my tools on, I'm like in the woodworking zone, I'm going to get stuff done.

It's something about the physical stuff stirs up emotions, focuses you, gets you in another zone.

 , if you put on really comfy soft shoes and you start padding around the house, it shifts your focus if you put on tight shoes, not really tight shoes, but your work shoes or something that you associate with going out the door and doing something,  , I think shoes really affect your focus in some ways, and your clothes, the type of shirts you wear, the type of trousers you wear etcetera, changes your mood and attention, I think, or helps too.

That's really interesting.

And the other thing that pops up for me is really establishing a routine because it's so easy just to jump out of bed and just run from one distraction to the next.

Oh, I've got to do this, oh, I've got to do this, oh, I've got to do this and you're just kind of switch backing all over the place and you're getting kind of things half done, but when you establish uh and also establishing a routine where you're doing things to activate and get yourself ready for the day, I really need to do that and I am a little bit off and I'm like prepared to sit down and create that daily.

I don't like the word routine, what would be a better word for it?

Rhythm, rhythm, Yeah, just something that gets me activated, like I should be having a big glass of water every morning, I should be going out and doing my forward ambulance station outside and getting light and activating my brain, which also then deactivates the amygdala for the day,  , so there are a number of things that you can do, you can sit down and read a little bit of a book that really empowers you and gets you set for the day.

I like to use Mark Nepo, I love his, I love his poetry and I love his books, just reading a little bit of Mark Nepo and getting that nugget that just really gets me motivated for the day.

So, I think, establishing some kind of routine of sort that is healthy to get you kind of prepared and in the right mindset so that you can be focused, and you can walk through your day with intention, don't just kind of just jump from distraction to distraction.

And if you don't have that routine, it's very easy to, for things to just be scattered.

Yes, we've got so many different tools and techniques we can talk about, and we've got technology, we can talk about as well we've talked about Asana and google and so on.

There's just so much within inhibitory control that I think one of the things that a lot of my clients love when I introduced it to them is working with a split screen and   we talked about that in working memory but this also applies to inhibitory control because when you're working with a split screen it's helping your working memory because you're not having to remember you're taking one thing from one screen and applying it to the other, that's working memory but it also helps with inhibitory control because it's really clear what your focus is on these things.

This one thing in front of you and there's a process you're going from one side to the other, you may be reading some websites and taking notes, you might be, I sometimes split screen asana with my calendar, so I take a task and put it in my calendar and so on that whole thing AIDS in inhibitory control for me.

Oh, can I add something to that?

I love with the split screen; I like to have google docs and a thesaurus.

Yeah, you and your thesaurus, that's just incredible.

Yeah, I get what you're saying, I would say, do   what my thesaurus is, google images, google images, how is that?

A saurus?

It's a visual thesaurus so I would put the thing that I'm thinking about into google images.

So, for example if I'm mind mapping and I'm thinking I want to somehow visualize this and visualizing it really helps me and I often can't picture it, which is really weird, I love visualizing things, I love the visual side of things, but sometimes I just can't see it.

And so, I go to google images and I say breadcrumb trail line art and, I had this thing breadcrumb trail of ideas, line art and then I see this dot of lines connected or bread or something.

I go yeah, yeah, of course, and that that helps me.

So, I regard that as a visual historicism where that's so interesting.

I love that to really activate your visualization because again, visualization is so incredibly helpful.

It's helpful for working memory because it's one of those vital pieces, but it helps for attention.

It's vital for inhibitory control.

So, it's very important.

That's another great hack that we're visualizing.

And if you have a hard time visualizing, then find those images to help you and sometimes we're trying to visualize things that are abstract, and we can't like how do you visualize that?

But it's amazing how you write in google and you look at images, you'll be like, oh that's a cool way of visualizing it, I really like that or YouTube watching a video if you but it's great if you're a student and you're learning about a historical period.

Of course.

Yes.

Yes, because then you can really review ancient Egypt and then it gets those visuals going so that when you go to class, you're like oh I already have visuals to attach to the to what you're talking about.

Well, I've got a really oblique inhibitory control hack.

Okay now I've definitely got some ADHD - undiagnosed as yet.

But when I take notes in a lecture, I can get easily distracted so I have to have something that is so all encompassing for me that it uses all of my attention and extra attention and for me that is live mind mapping the talk.

I teach my students how to do it.

And I just realized that what happens is recently is that when your life mapping a talk and you're kind of forcing yourself to translate it into doodles and drawings and connections and so on, you're not just listening, you're engaging all of your brain that when it gets boring I maintain my concentration because it's this tool that is focusing me rather than the speaker and I can see other people are fading out but I'm still in the zone and so it helps me with my working memory because I get all the information down instantly and it helps me stay focused with inhibitory control.

I can I do three-hour lectures sometimes and I can map the whole thing from start to finish and I am focused all the way through because I'm doing this drawing and doodling and so on and so for me, inhibitory control is quite a broad range, isn't it?

 ?

It is and I have to bring up one other one before our time is over.

That is so important.

A great hack, particularly for kids in the classroom or FM systems and these are systems that actually create uh that the place, excuse me, that place a microphone under the teacher and sends the audio directly to the students so that its louder.

They're not as many auditory distractions between where the teacher is and where they are and just having that clear audio can be really, really helpful.

And then, of course, you can always use which is a similar hack noise canceling air pods or headphones can help to block out any of those distractions because some people are really distracted by noises and then there are those that will put blare music and you're like well how could that help?

Because it blocks out unexpected noise because it's the unexpected noise that is distracting for some people, I personally can't have music on, that's distracting for me.

But for other people I'll never forget the student, I had that listen to heavy metal and he said that's what works for me and I was like I don't believe you and we put it on and he showed me and I was like that's amazing because I have no idea what you just did because I'm so distracted but it's very individualized and it's very, very common for people to push what works for them on others and not be open to something that doesn't work for them.

And so, it's really, really important that if you are trying to help your students or your Children or your partner that you give them the flexibility to have their own hacks because they may not be the same as yours.

Yeah.

And these hacks are super important even in the workplace.

I mean inhibitory control in the workplace is key.

And we should do a specific talk about zoom and executive function.

Doing zoom calls and executive function because I've got thoughts on sound quality, the visuals, sharing all the different dynamics that happen within zoom and how to do executive function with within a virtual environment is a whole other realm in and of itself.

 , where the camera’s positioned, where you are looking, where are they looking, eye contact, we should talk about as well.

Why don't we do that in our next episode?

Let's zoom in two Zoom.

Yeah, zoom in two Zoom.

And we'll do let's do a second part on this as well.

 , follow one part for this.

This has been a short half hour session today we normally go for another 14, 15 minutes, but I have a meeting with an app developer in a few minutes time, so we'll do a part two on this one.

Yeah, I think that's great, and I love the idea of zooming into zoom because I think that's also going to trigger all sorts of other hacks.

Yes, we're really get into the tech executive function in the online world.

How about we do that?

So, it's not just zoom but it's other stuff that happens working remotely executive function and remote work.

How about we do that?

Sounds good to me.

Great.

Well see you next week for that.

Excellent.

Thanks Darius.

Thanks Erica.

Bye.

Thank you for joining our conversation here at the personal brain trainer podcast.

This is dr Erica Warren and this is Darius Namdaran.

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