Building a Brave New Brain for a Brave New World

Building a Brave New Brain in a Brave New World

The more things change, the more they seem to change ever faster, transforming us and propelling our world in profound and unpredictable directions. Eric Schmidt of Google estimates that the total amount of information generated in the world, whether by selfie photos, tweets, texts, and hurriedly dispatched emails and memos, doubles every two days. This adds 5 billion, billion bytes of data (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) to the world’s stores every two days. Every 13 months, the amount of “human knowledge,” which is skill-based, categorized and theoretically organized information, doubles. Computer processing speeds increase by 10% every other year. The number of people around the world who are interconnected via smart technologies is exploding. There are more smart devices in the world than there are people populating the planet.  

What Matters Most in this New World

Who are the consumers of this treasure trove of wisdom, knowledge, information and raw data? All of us are, but for those of us in the second half of life, the impact of this tsunami of ideas holds both promise and challenges. For example, life expectancy continues to increase. Every day, 10,000 people in the US will turn 65 for the next 20 years. But, growth in the rate of chronic disease is increasing even faster, meaning there may be more of us living longer but not necessarily better or healthier. The impact of these factors on our future economy is still being assessed. We don’t know the world we are creating and that is simultaneously creating us. Conversely, what is required of us to utilize and benefit from the opportunities that exist for those of us seeking to pursue our “third act” in life?

Embedded within this information vortex are certain fundamentals that don’t change. For any opportunity that arises in our lives, we must be ready and able to take advantage. That means that as technical and other factors are extending our life expectancy, we must be present, to “show up” as vital and vibrant as we seek to actively participate in this universe of opportunity through meaning-filled and purpose-driven actions. So, while everything else seems to be changing quickly, key fundamental skills help assure that our lives can express their full promise.

3 Skills for Building a Brave New Brain 

Here are three counter-intuitive skills that can best prepare us to live our lives most fully and joyfully in a world overflowing with immediate and often contradictory information.

·        Seek Uncertainty: With answers to seemingly any question immediately available to us simply by “Googling”, there ought to be an answer for everything. And yet, it is uncertainty that drives vital skills of curiosity, exploration and discovery, especially uncertainty about questions that truly matter. Uncertainty is a powerful brain exerciser. The active and often demanding search for answers prepares our minds for the long haul, not the short sprint. Seeking uncertainty also avoids the mental stagnation associated with rapid access to answers to even our most trivial questions.

·        Practice Discernment: In our brave new world, it won’t be the brain that knows the most that matters. It will be the brain that knows what matters most. Borrowing from author Neil Gaiman (The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction), the discerning individual doesn’t face the challenge of finding a “scarce plant growing in a desert.” The challenge will be finding “a specific plant growing in a jungle.” To know what matters means aligning ourselves, our energy, our devotion and our choices with our purpose. By definition, that means often choosing to ignore the easy, low-hanging fruit of immediate satisfaction in favor of actions and directions that will repeatedly thwart our efforts but which promise an enduring reward and even a legacy.

·        Tolerate Discontent: In the middle of our brains sits our pleasure or reward center. Much of our brain’s circuitry is designed to compel us to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Ironically, that pleasure-seeking is at the core of much of our human misery, as our impulse to avoid discomfort, dissatisfaction and discontent leads to choices that may in-the-moment may meet the goal, but which simultaneously propel us toward even more pain later. Learning to tolerate discontent – no, to embrace it – is essential to creating a sense of ease and comfort. Research shows that happier older adults are not those whose lives have been insulated from pain, untouched by tragedy and loss. Instead, those adults who tolerate that discomfort and discontent that are inevitable parts of life simultaneously drink more deeply from life’s pleasures.

As you prepare for tomorrow’s brave new world I encourage you to actively build your brave new brain. The three suggestions I offer here are a solid start. I’ll continue to offer more in the months ahead. In the meantime, welcome to 2017, and may it be a year of curiosity, exploration and discovery for you. 

To receive a link to my free, brain-training course, a 7-Day Challenge for Creating a New You in 2017, go to the following link and sign-up. I hope you'll enjoy it.