Your Brain at Work – David Rock (Book Summary)

Our mental capabilities can be significantly expanded and, accordingly, increase the effectiveness of our activities.

In his best-selling book, Leadership Expert David Rock details how to do this.

There is nothing supernatural.

The author explains how our brain responds to certain situations, how it processes information, what limitations it has and how to get around these restrictions.

After reading this book, you will finally be convinced, for example, that effective work does not at all mean doing many things at once and that it is not necessarily accompanied by constant stress.

Perhaps some of the techniques described will seem difficult to apply to you.

But the author does not promise easy ways.

This book is available as:

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Consciousness is a Theater

In modern economic conditions, more and more knowledge workers are required, the remuneration of which directly depends on the ability to think carefully and find creative solutions.

This is difficult because we live in an era characterized by an overabundance of distractions.

We are not allowed to concentrate messages from social networks, correspondence by e-mail, countless opportunities to entertain ourselves with something.

There are natural factors. A person’s mental abilities are not unlimited: we can think hard only for a very short time. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to increase the efficiency of the brain – for this, you need to know how it functions.

“Our brain is a machine, but it is not just a machine. However, the only way to become more than a machine is to properly understand the machine-like nature of your own brain. ”

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for making decisions and finding a way out of difficult situations.

It can be represented as a small theater (not comparable to the Bolshoi, but to the podium in the children’s bedroom). The scene is our focus. Actors – information that enters this zone from the outside world.

And the audience – information from the inner world, our thoughts and memories. Sometimes actors are replaced by spectators – they go on stage and begin to play.

At this moment, instead of focusing on a specific task, we are immersed in memories or thinking about other things – for example, about the upcoming dinner. This is how the functions of our consciousness relate to what is happening in this theater:

  • Understanding. The actor appears on stage and stays there as long as it takes to establish contact with the auditorium.
  • Making decisions. Actors (ideas, thoughts) stand on the stage, we compare them with each other and make an estimated decision about each.
  • Memory. Someone from the audience enters the scene.
  • Memorization. Actors descend from the stage and sit among the audience.
  • Braking. When there are too many actors, we are distracted and our attention weakens.

How to Increase Brain Efficiency

Adjust your work routine to fit your brain.

Prioritization requires a lot of mental effort, so it should be addressed first.

For example, instead of starting your day by reading mail, plan ahead. Each person’s attention is most acute at a certain time of day: someone in the morning, someone in the evening. It is at this time that the most complex cases must be rescheduled.

“If you understand the brain processes involved, for example, in decision making, you can marvel at your own abilities. It’s probably worth respecting your limitations, not fighting them. ”

We are capable of simultaneously holding four actors on the stage of consciousness, four objects – for example, four numbers or words.

Keeping four sentences is much more difficult, not to mention four ideas.

Therefore, it is necessary to resort to simplification – to break up information arrays into smaller, easier to remember blocks. Another way is to group objects according to a common feature.

For example, when making a decision on investing, all emerging ideas can be combined into four groups related to:

  • 1) goals;
  • 2) the results;
  • 3) arguments for;
  • 4) arguments against.

“The brain is not just a logical machine. The purpose of his activity is to save the life of his master. ”

At each point in time, our brain is capable of performing only one conscious thought process.

All other processes at this time are performed “on autopilot”. As soon as we try to simultaneously solve two cognitive tasks, our mental abilities from the level of a university graduate fall to the level of an eight-year-old child.

The need to constantly switch from one task to another leads to too intensive loading of our “RAM”. Therefore, first of all, you should think about what decisions you need to take at the beginning in order to be able to make other decisions.

Distractions and Sharp Thinking

Our productivity is significantly reduced by various distractions: external (telephone, mail, television, office noise) and internal – random thoughts, memories.

Distracted, we are forced to spend additional energy in order to concentrate again.

This leads to errors and to the fact that really worthwhile thoughts are forgotten. In order to always stay focused, you must learn to get rid of distractions.

First of all, turn off the phone and close the mail. It is not difficult. It’s much more complicated to sift out unnecessary behaviors. This will require, firstly, to consciously observe your thought processes and, secondly, to intercept harmful impulses before they become fixed in the brain.

To put it simply, you need to learn how to intercept and slow down your desires in time, for example, check the mail.

“Brain chemistry changes throughout the day as a result of the action of natural external stimuli. If you almost got hit by a bus, then the rest of the day you will probably feel yourself cocked. ”

The brain works most efficiently only at the optimal level of arousal.

If it is too weak, we experience boredom, if it is too strong – nervous overload.

Excitation occurs at a certain concentration of two substances: dopamine, which is responsible for arousing interest, and norepinephrine, which controls acuity of attention.

Their level can be controlled. To increase the level of norepinephrine, it is enough to vividly imagine some extremely unpleasant situation – for example, failed business negotiations.

Turning on interest, increasing dopamine levels is also quite simple: you need to change the situation a bit, discuss upcoming matters with someone, and read an interesting or funny article. When the level of excitement is optimal, we experience a surge of energy. This state can be called a “stream state”.

To achieve it, it is necessary so that our actions are based on familiar patterns. For example, a person is driving a racing car. If he knows how to drive a regular car, then his brain will use these skills as a basis. And his level of excitement will be at the optimum level.

Why Mindfulness Is So Important

In addition to actors and spectators, there is a director in the theater of our consciousness. This is the part of consciousness that carefully and as if from the side observes the events of our lives.

This is “thinking about thinking,” or awareness. The term “mindfulness” is borrowed by neuroscientists from Buddhism. Living in a state of awareness, we live here and now, react to situations as they arise, fully aware of our inner experience.

“If you cannot predict how the situation will be resolved, an alarm is automatically triggered in the brain: attention!”

There are two ways to perceive the world.

The first is that having received information from the world around us, we process and interpret it. So, having felt a light breeze, a person begins to reflect on the fact that the breeze portends the imminent onset of autumn, after which winter will come, and there are no plans for the New Year holidays.

Another way is the direct perception of what is happening. A person feels how the wind caresses the skin, as the sun warms. This method allows you to get more sensory information, as well as information about what is happening inside us – what thoughts and feelings have taken hold of us. This is the work of the internal director, awareness.

“Having found a way to make at least some choice, even a small one, you can significantly affect the functioning of your brain and switch its reaction from negative to positive.”

To achieve awareness, you must learn to switch between the two ways of perceiving the world.

For example, sitting in a chair and reading a book, you need to focus on your feelings – the depth and softness of the chair, the texture of the paper. The more often you bring about a state of awareness, the longer it will last.

This is a very useful skill. It allows not only to increase the efficiency of the brain, but also to improve their physical well-being.

The Limbic System and Emotions

At every step, we need to make decisions.

  • Get up or still sleep?
  • How to have breakfast?
  • Where to go?

The limbic system of the brain helps to choose a behavior.

She is responsible for our emotions, which relate to thoughts, events, objects, and people. The main task of the limbic system is to give a qualitative assessment.

For example, it helps to decide whether we like the proposed breakfast option or not. She also tells us whether the berries found in the forest constitute a danger or is it a treat. The limbic system constantly makes us either run away from the threat or strive for a reward.

“You can train in marking and reassessment, learn to conduct these operations more efficiently and quickly. One can learn to read the state of other people and calm the mind when necessary. ”

There are situations when the limbic system begins to receive too many signals about the real or imaginary danger. In such cases, it is overexcited. As a result, the prefrontal cortex receives less energy.

For this reason, intense situations, we, as a rule, act “on autopilot,” rather than trying to think rationally. In addition, with overexcitation, a state of awareness becomes unavailable, which allows you to make better decisions. Any new situation is perceived negatively.

“From the point of view of a neuroscientist, mindfulness has nothing to do with spirituality, religion, or any … type of meditation. In addition, there are many ways to develop this feature, which each person has to one degree or another. ”

It is possible to reduce the overexcitation of the limbic system before the appearance of emotions. One way is to try to avoid a situation that poses a clear threat. Another is to try to make a difference.

The third is to try to organize your attention, for example, to cut off all distractions. If emotions are still manifested, then they can be thrown out. Or try to restrain them, but then the limbic system will remain in an overexcited state. In this case, a change in attitude toward the situation may help.

Certainty, Choice, Independence

The brain needs to know what is going on.

Therefore, he constantly makes predictions. As soon as he received a hint of some familiar situation, he immediately tried to establish a pattern. At the same time, our expectations directly affect the information entering the brain. Information that meets expectations is accepted, not relevant – rejected.

If the situation develops as expected, a small dose of dopamine is released. The dose increases if reality exceeds expectations. If we made a mistake in our expectations, we are seized by anxiety.

“Being mindful is not difficult: it’s hard not to forget to do it. It’s always necessary to keep the director in the forefront of the auditorium so that, when needed, he can jump onto the stage at any time. ”

Certainty is extremely important for the brain, and independence in actions is closely related to it.

Lack of control over the situation or the ability to make a choice gives rise to feelings of uncertainty and danger. In such situations, “cognitive reevaluation” helps.

It allows you to see options. The presence of a choice, albeit a small one (or the feeling that it is), changes negative perception to positive. Most people feel satisfied, taking even the simplest, everyday decisions regarding their lives. Sometimes it’s enough for a person to think that he himself is the master of his fate.

“Illumination happens the more often the calmer and happier you are.”

“Cognitive reevaluation” can be done in several ways. One way is to interpret the event differently, to decide that it is not dangerous. Another is to normalize. The first time in a new workplace is always stress. If we recognize this condition as normal, then the level of stress will significantly decrease. The third way is to “reorganize the information.”

The proposal to join the team can cause a negative reaction from someone who is used to working independently because for him freedom comes first. “Reassessment” is to put the benefits of teamwork first. The fourth way, “change your position,” means looking at the situation from the perspective of another person, another culture, another country, and so on.

Brain and Interaction With Other People.

Our brain, as in ancient times, closely monitors our social environment.

If we consider someone an enemy, competitor or potential adversary, then when communicating with him, the effectiveness of our thought processes decreases.

In addition, we are not able to perceive himself and his ideas objectively. It’s completely different with friends: while communicating with them, the hormone of pleasure oxytocin is produced, and the effectiveness of our thought processes increases.

If we have to work in a new team, then we perceive its members as potential enemies.

Therefore, for the work to be fruitful, first of all, it is necessary to “show” to the brain that they are friends — to devote time to strengthening ties, informal communication.

“Status is relative, and a person feels satisfaction from its increase whenever he feels in something“ better ”than the other.”

An important role in communication is played by status.

The brain perceives it as one of the basic conditions for survival, so we pay him such great attention. As soon as we feel that our affairs are doing better than others, we feel pleasure. A threat to status can lead to a break in social contacts. In addition to caring for status, the brain craves honesty and openness.

They trigger a reward mechanism, which is expressed in the release of dopamine. People who consider their companies honest and fair get more pleasure from their work. And a feeling of injustice causes pain, which can lead to a breakdown and interfere with rational thinking.

How to Change

Leaders encourage people to change by providing them with feedback in the form of criticism.

However, regardless of the way it is expressed, criticism poses a threat to the status of other people, so they automatically begin to defend themselves.

“Criticism often gives the critic a sharp reaction to the threat, which does not help to improve the quality of work.”

By clearly articulating goals, you will create a sense of certainty in people.

Do not tell others the solution to their problems – this is a waste of time. Help a person put his brain in a calm state, and this will allow him to independently find the right solution.

To help others release mental energy, use a simplification technique.

“More and more people in the modern world get paid for what they think, and not just for doing routine work.”

When managing the process of transformation in the organization, do not resort to the carrot and stick method. Instead, three things need to be done:

  1. Create a safe environment for employees. They should not feel threatened by their status. Many experienced and wise leaders are modest and always ready for simple human communication.
  2. To create conditions for the formation of new connections in the minds of people. To do this, they need to focus on new objects. Correctly asked questions will help to switch their attention.
  3. Support the existence of new mental patterns. Collaboration and communication in its process can greatly help in this.


  • Today, like never before, we need the utmost concentration of attention, and, like never before, a huge number of factors distract us.
  • Our mental abilities are limited, but their effectiveness can be improved.
  • In order to cope well with complex tasks, their implementation must be moved to the time of day when attention is most acute.
  • Excessive emotions prevent us from thinking clearly, so it is important to learn how to manage them.
  • The brain reacts extremely negatively to both uncertainty and lack of choice. You can “reassure” him simply by thinking that there is always a choice and that man is the master of his destiny.
  • Awareness is a way of perceiving the world in which we live in the present and are fully aware of our experiences.
  • The brain works best at a certain level of arousal. Excessive excitement slows down his work, and inadequate immerses him in boredom. It can be controlled.
  • To think more efficiently, you should not perform several tasks at the same time.
  • Reassessing her attitude to the situation from negative to positive will help her reassessment, a look from a different angle.
  • To interact fruitfully with new people, you need to “show” to the brain that they are not enemies, but friends.

 Why You Should Read “Your Brain at Work”

  • To increase personal effectiveness
  • Tod develop a career or your own business
  • To do much more and live a full life.

This book is available as:

AudiobookeBook | Print

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