My Journey to Control My Brain

Me: Time to go to sleep.

Brain: Did I make Sue mad today? I have so much to do tomorrow. How will I get it all done? Did I close the garage door? Chickens. I hope my flight 3 months from now isn’t canceled. I need to mow the lawn. What podcast will I listen to tomorrow? Horses. Eggs. I need to make an appointment to get my tires rotated. 


Does this sound familiar? 

I am writing this blog post to share with you my journey to train my brain to do what I want it to do when I want it to do it. I have always been intrigued by how the brain works, but until recently, I hadn’t been too concerned with taming it. Now I am fixated on it!

I have practiced mindfulness for a few years. Mindfulness, for me, was an at-the-moment experience. I would set aside 10-15 minutes to use my Calm subscription (I am one of the lucky educators who got a lifetime subscription for free) and work to set my mind at ease. I see now that I wasn’t practicing mindfulness outside of the sessions. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a part of my day-to-day life. 

Enter Erin Kiger , a member of one of my online PLNs who thought I would be interested in a new product that Swivl was working on called Skilled Space. I jumped in fully, started using the platform, and regularly connected with Sara Candela, who was working on the project for Swivl. Little did I know that this connection would change how I looked at my brain. I am always promoting making active connections using social media, and this was the perfect storm. My relationship with Sara led to my connection with the project manager Arlen Bitsky and the founder of Swivl, Brian Lamb. Long story short, Skilled Space evolved into something bigger, Focusable, and I am hooked. Simply put, these three individuals have changed my life. 

As they state on their website, “Focusable leverages neuroscience to transform learning and work into more enjoyable and productive experiences.” My experience over the last year with beta testing the product has helped me start to take more control over my ability to focus and control my brain. Focusable, combined with my experience of mindfulness, has better allowed me to recognize when my attention is being highjacked and bring myself back to the present. Manageable goals and the opportunity to reflect during the process is genuinely changing the way my brain functions.  

Sara also started hosting book studies for books like Peak Mind by Amishi Jha and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to help further the idea of how the brain works and how we can better understand our minds. I have since added other brain-based books to my reading list. My latest read is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. All this discussion and reading have helped me make critical changes in my life. It is still a work in progress, but here are some changes I have made or am working to make.

  • Mindlessly scrolling through social media- I still use it but am more conscious of when and for long I am doing it. I am considering removing social media apps from my phone. 
  • Giving myself time to let my brain run wild- I realized that I am pumping stuff into my ears all the time…driving to work, sitting at my desk, working out, etc. My current goal, work out without headphones every other time. My brain needs time to process everything I am putting in it. This blog post started on a 3-mile headphoneless walk.
  • Continue to meditate- I am currently on a 26-day streak. The streak is less important than the skills I am learning. I find myself employing the skills in the guided sessions to the outside world. I focus on my breathing many times throughout the day.
  • To be happy, I need challenges- I now look at relaxation differently than I used to. I have started to think about productive leisure time and am exploring new “hobbies” that provide my brain with a challenge. Your brain needs stimulation and challenge to grow. 
  • Sharing these ideas with others- I am not keeping this all to myself. I have shared Focusable with a friend at work, El Higus, and she has become passionate about it. We plan to talk to district-level leaders about using Focusable with staff and students. 

I am sure this list will get longer as I continue exploring more brain science. For now, I love the idea that I can change my brain for the better. As the folks at Focusbale say, “You are focusable.” 

Don Sturm