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How Your Brain Adapts and Learns When Doing Difficult Tasks

Author:NeuroGym Team

How Your Brain Conforms When Doing More Complex Tasks


Have you ever worked on challenging tasks and felt as if you weren’t getting anywhere?

You could feel frustrated, especially if you have a long list of things to get done. The situation becomes even more infuriating when these are tasks that you’ve done many times before and now can’t seem to get right.

How your brain works affects how you complete your daily activities. Understanding its process and using them to your advantage can help you to get more done faster.

Updating Mental Circuitry

Quite frequently, you get used to doing an activity in a specific way only to find at some stage that your process is no longer valid. A new one has taken its place and you have to adapt.

For example, you might have logged into your bank account with a PIN number. Now, as an added security measure, the bank requests that you also scan your fingerprint after entering the PIN. It’s another step that you have to get used to—the process has changed.

Not Doing Enough

Researchers at MIT conducted a study to understand what happens in the brain when faced with a new step in a known process. The study was done on rats, but scientists hypothesized that the same could also happen in people.

The rats were accustomed to sticking their snouts into a hole in order to get a treat. Scientists switched this around by requiring the rats put their snouts into two holes instead of one before getting their reward. 

By monitoring the brain, researchers could see what happens in it while doing a set of tasks. They found that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was more active when the rats realized that steps weren’t being performed properly, which the ACC signaled to the motor cortex (M2).

Once the rats realized what they had to do to get a treat, the M2 updated its sequential processing, allowing the rats to perform their activities better.


Adjusting to New Instructions

Researchers split the rats into groups to understand what would happen in their brains when the ACC was “switched off” and couldn’t communicate with the M2.

To do this, scientists genetically manipulated the ACC. Activity in the ACC was suppressed so there was a struggle for information to be transferred to the M2 to let it know that another step is required.

The rats with suppressed ACCs failed the experiment many times before learning there was a second step. It comes down to not processing rules properly.

Based on these findings, scientists hypothesize that this circuitry also exists in humans.

Research Advances Neuroscience

Neuroscience is a field with constant changes and innovations. The findings from studies such as the one discussed previously can affect the way you do things in the future.

Proven brain science exists that can change your life and help you build wealth. We’ve put this knowledge together in a free ebook to teach you how to Think and Become Rich

The Science of Task Management

The study on rats illustrates that to do activities effectively you need to learn new skills and develop good habits. Before we discuss how that works, let’s consider what happens when you don’t complete a task.

Rehearsing Unfinished Tasks

When you don’t do a task, you are reminded about it constantly. You may have written it down, set a reminder, or it pops up in your mind when you are getting ready for bed.

No matter what you do, you constantly have those unfinished tasks taking up space in your mind. That’s exactly what they do—they take up mental space.

The first time you receive information, it is processed by your senses. From there, the details get stored in short-term memory. Simple chores (like taking out the trash) are stored briefly in short-term memory and then forgotten about.

If you don’t complete tasks, they sit in your short-term memory indefinitely. You constantly think about them and rehearse them in your mind so your brain will prompt you to do them continuously.

Once you do get to those items, they are quickly forgotten because you no longer have them in your short-term memory. Your brain will only let up when it knows it’s okay to forget a piece of information.

Feelings of Fulfillment 

Getting stuff done also has an effect on the brain: It provides a dopamine rush.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that provides feelings of pleasure and that helps the brain and body to communicate. When you tick off something on your to-do list, your body releases dopamine as a reward, and that ‘high’ motivates you to do the next task.

Feeling fulfilled is just one result of finishing items on your to-do list. Another benefit of dopamine release is that it helps you to think and learn better. It’s a huge advantage because thinking better means you can do tasks more efficiently and learn additional steps faster.

A New Wealth Strategy

Getting work done is necessary if you want to be productive. It’s also necessary if you want to build wealth.

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Get Stuff Done 

A long list of unfinished tasks can be daunting and you may not know where to start or what to work on first. It results in feeling overwhelmed but that’s because your workload outweighs your current capacity. It’s an indicator that you need to create better skills and habits.

Do Something Small

Right now, you need to start getting tasks off your list, but that’s easier said than done. No matter whether you focus on small or big tasks, it will still give you a boost of dopamine when they are done, so make it easy on yourself!

Choose three to five smaller tasks that you know you can get done quickly, then finish them one after the other. Opt for easy things like paying bills, sending an email, or packing the dishwasher.

Make a Plan

Tasks don’t get completed by chance; you have to take control of them. You have to create a plan to get stuff done.

Write down all the things you have to do and rank them in order of priority. Add some idea of how long you will spend on each task, then slot the tasks into your planner.

If a specific task is time-intensive, break it down into smaller milestones. Use these subtasks to keep your motivation up.

Identify Distractions

Take some time to think about your daily routine and identify any time-wasting activities. For example, you might feel you don’t have much time in the evenings, yet you spend two hours watching TV. That’s time you could put to better use!

Similarly, you could find that you are on social media or checking emails in the middle of work. You need to identify these kinds of distractions and set limits on how long you can spend on them.

If necessary, use apps that block social media platforms or games on your phone and computer. Schedule time to check your emails rather than checking them randomly.

Identify any other distractions and find a suitable solution to help you use your time better.

Take a Break

As long as your to-do list may seem, you need to take breaks if you want your brain to stay fresh. When you struggle with tasks or start slowing down, it’s a sign that your brain needs a break.

Taking some time away from tasks can help you come up with innovative solutions and help you see the situation from a different perspective. Use the time to do some meditation, drink a glass of water, or go for a walk.

Say No

It’s easy to say ‘yes’ every time someone asks you to do something or when you get invited to an event, but there’s no way you can get to everything. You need to say ‘no’ to some requests if you want to get the rest of your tasks done.

If saying ‘no’ outright is too difficult for you, then say something like, “I need to check my schedule first. I’ll get back to you soon.” Then, check your calendar to see whether you have available time and let the other person know when you can fit their tasks into your schedule.

Look to an Expert

Many people have struggled with productivity and learning new processes before. As a result, they had to develop new skills and build better habits. If these people have done these things and succeeded, they can share their knowledge with you.

One such expert is John Assaraf. After starting from nothing, John built his wealth and now shares his knowledge with other people—and you can be one of them.

Learn all about thinking and becoming rich by downloading John’s free ebook. It has everything you need to replicate his blueprint for success.

About The Author

NeuroGym Team

NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.

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