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Do you DMN Daily? Brain tips to improve your leadership


Having just returned from a week’s family holiday in Tasmania I’m feeling refreshed and renewed. Whilst away we did some hiking in the Cradle Mountain National Park and, as is often the case, I had some great ideas for the business whilst out in nature. It reminded me of a conversation I’d had with a founder just before I’d left. Having recently placed someone into his business to run it for him, he expressed some concern about spending time surfing, now that he had the flexibility, despite recognising he does his best thinking whilst in the ocean.


In our world as directors, CEOs and executives, where critical decisions and constant pressure are part of the daily routine, finding ways to enhance cognitive function and foster innovative thinking is crucial. Interestingly, science suggests that taking breaks in nature, engaging in exercise, and even taking a shower can significantly influence how we think, leading to improved leadership capabilities.


The Default Mode Network


Downtime is as important for your brain as it is for your body. There is an area of your brain that gets more active when you aren’t focused on processing information, that is the default mode network. The science suggests that when you let your mind wander, it replenishes your brain. To do this you truly need to let your mind be free – scrolling through social media, worrying, watching TV these things don’t count. I use what I term the “D.M.N.” acronym to help remember the things that activate your default mode network:


1.     Daydream

 

Do something that you know helps you to daydream. For me, that’s running or walking, for my colleague earlier it was surfing. For a lot of people being in the shower works. As long as whatever it is helps your brain to wander.

 

2.     Meditate

 

Find the form of meditation that works for you. Breathing exercises, using an app, mindfulness, visualisation, relaxation etc. Again, there is no right or wrong, the point is to stop your brain from worrying and processing so that you may be in a better place to let your mind wander.

 

3.     Nature

 

Not only is being in nature restorative from a mental health perspective by releasing a rush of endorphins that can promote a positive, relaxed mood, but it also helps you to look off into the distance, encouraging that wandering mind.

 

Incubation and creativity


Our brains can solve problems in two ways. Firstly we take a deliberate and analytical pathway, or secondly, insights seemingly pop into our heads out of nowhere. It is this second path that we seek to encourage through “DMN Daily” habits. This type of cogitation allows us to make more creative connections between pieces of information we already know.  This broadens our thinking, making us turn to things that may at first seem a little “out of the box”. It improves our problem-solving skills and enhances our creativity. This state of relaxation is crucial for leaders who need to make clear, unbiased decisions, come up with alternate plans, or have “Eureka” breakthrough moments.


Leaders embracing these practices


Globally, many leaders understand the importance of these practices. For example, Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post, is a strong advocate for the benefits of mindfulness and nature. She emphasises that stepping away from the office and into nature can lead to better health and improved business decisions.


Here in Australia, leaders such as Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Atlassian, have highlighted the importance of mental wellbeing and physical fitness. Cannon-Brookes, known for his commitment to regular exercise and spending time in nature, believes these activities help him stay grounded and think more clearly.


Implementing a daily routine


For busy executives, integrating these practices into a daily routine may seem challenging, either because of genuine time restraints or because we feel an internal need to constantly be productive. However, understanding the benefits and putting in good habits means it is feasible with deliberate planning. Here are some practical tips:


1. Schedule nature breaks:


Allocate time in your calendar for short walks in nearby parks or gardens. Even a 10-15 minute walk can have significant benefits.


2. Incorporate regular exercise:


Find an exercise routine that you enjoy and can stick to, that lets your mind wander. Whether it's jogging, swimming, or walking regular physical activity should be a non-negotiable part of your schedule.


3. Embrace the shower effect:


Use shower time as an opportunity to relax and let your mind wander. Keep a waterproof notepad in the bathroom or use "Hey Siri, Alexa, or Google” to keep a note of any ideas that come to mind.

 

In the quest for better leadership, it is essential to recognise the power of Daily DMN to keep your brain sharp. These activities promote mental clarity, reduce stress, and generate innovative thinking, all of which are crucial for effective leadership.


Author of ‘Meaningful Work: Unlock Your Unique Path to Career Fulfilment’, Nina Mapson Bone is a people strategist, consultant, chair and keynote speaker. She consults with boards, CEOs, founders and executives on bridging the disconnect between strategy and the needs, motivations and capabilities of their people. Nina’s executive career has spanned three continents and diverse sectors. She was previously the Managing Director of Beaumont People, where she led a period of significant growth for the organisation, during which it was recognised with multiple awards. For more information visit www.ninamapsonbone.com.au

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