Yes, you’re scary-smart and highly skilled. If only that were enough to succeed in the IT world. As you may have seen, career success doesn’t necessarily flow to those with the best academic credentials or in-the-trenches experience. What’s up with that?
According to psychologist Mark Brown and neuroscientist Mark Fenske, high achievement has little to do with innate intelligence and everything to do with the way your brain operates. In their book, The Winner’s Brain, they say that success has more to do with how your brain operates than the knowledge it contains.
They’ve identified eight “win factors” that separate the simply smart from the truly successful — and they have little to do with coding competence. Instead, they’re personality traits; but Brown and Fenske say that you can train these into your brain. The success factors are:
- Emotional balance
If you’re like most IT pros, you likely would score high in motivation, focus and memory. But how adaptable are you? Do you push back when managers want to use a technology or approach that you think is wrong, for example? Is it easy for you to bounce back from failure?
The good news is that you can build these traits, thanks to neuroplasticity, that is, the ability of the brain to form new connections, actually rewiring itself in response to experiences of all kinds.
Your brain changes in response to what you do with it, the authors say. But you have to be willing to do the work. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says studies show that it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. (That doesn’t mean it will take you 10 years to develop winning traits; it just means you have to keep at it.) Here’s how to remodel that gray matter:
Change it up: Refresh your intellect by learning something completely different from what you do at work. For an IT pro, that could be playing a musical instrument, painting or cooking. “As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses,” Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, told the New York Times. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up.”
Be still: Mindfulness meditation, practiced regularly, can increase resilience and calm stress, according to neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson, author of “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” Studies have shown that this non-religious practice can train the brain to bounce back from adversity and keep forging ahead toward success.
Gamify it: Online games aimed at improving aspects of brain function can be addictive, they’re so fun. Lumosity has games created by neuroscientists that it says will improve memory, attention, speed, flexibility and problem solving in 15 minutes a day. A free level lets you play several games a day; you can unlock all the games for $14.95 per month. Posit Science offers free online games for training attention, brain speed, memory, people skills (hello, IT Dept.) and basic intelligence.
Move the bod: Exercising your body can kickstart the growth of new brain cells. Experts recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week. (Of course, 90 minutes of exercise four to six times a week is even better.) You can break each day’s allotment of exercise into chunks; for example, walk for 15 minutes in the morning and again in the evening.
If you want to learn a lot more about how you can harness neuroplasticity to succeed, watch this Google Tech Talk by Michael Merzenich, a neuroscientist and one of the foremost brain researchers.