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How to keep your brain calm

I recently read "Neurolanguage Coaching" by Rachel Paling. Neurolanguage Coaching is a kind of language teaching that incorporates coaching skills and techniques with a theoretical understanding of how the brain works and how to keep the brain in its optimal state during the learning process. Rachel's basic idea is that if we can keep the brain calm and relaxed, the learning process will be quicker, more efficient and more enjoyable. She points out that if you are in a situation that you interpret as a threat, the brain will trigger the well-known 'fight-or-flight' response in the body. This is when you experience physical sensations like a fast-beating heart, a dry mouth or cold hands. This fight-or-flight response works well when we are faced with true physical danger. However, it works less well when we are faced with 'dangers' such as interviews, exams and presentations! And if you've ever had to take an exam or give a presentation and wondered why you don't seem to be able to concentrate as you usually can, it's because the fight-or-flight response overrides your ability to think rationally. After all, if you had to run away from real physical danger, you would not waste time analysing the situation! Moreover, because doing things in a foreign language can absolutely be seen as a threat by the brain, language learners often find themselves in this fight-or-flight situation whereby they need to perform to a high level in their foreign language but are essentially blocked from doing this by the natural response in the brain!

What can you do to keep your brain calm?

So, what can you do to keep your brain calm and relaxed so that you can avoid this fight-or-flight response and keep your ability to think rationally, even when you are in a challenging situation? First, I have to advocate meditation. By this, I do not mean sitting in full lotus position for hours. Instead, I suggest several short meditations per day. When I am working at home, I take a 5-minute meditation in the morning before I open my computer and another after my lunch break. I also do micro-meditations of 30 seconds throughout the day. This is enough to stop my mind racing and keeps me in a relaxed state. This technique works well in performance situations such as exams or interviews too. There is nothing to prevent you from focussing on your breathing while you are waiting to be interviewed, or taking a 5-second break during your reading exam if you start to feel anxious. Secondly, If you feel that your stress levels are becoming unbearable, stop what you are doing. This is something I struggle with, to be honest, but I also know that it doesn't help me to try and work when I feel stressed, angry or worried. In fact, it's counter-productive and I usually make a lot of mistakes. I am working on creating a habit to stop what I am doing when I notice I am too stressed and cannot concentrate and only come back to it when I feel better able to concentrate. Finally, educate yourself. There is a growing body of evidence about how the brain works and how this impacts on other areas of our lives. For example, Rachel Paling talks about neurolaw and neuroeconomics so we can see that neuroscience is starting to trickle down into other areas. The more you understand about your brain and how it works, the more you realise that your responses are not about YOU as a person; rather your brain is responding to a situation in the way it thinks it should. The good new s is that your brain is plastic and its responses can be reprogrammed at any stage in life! I highly recommend learning more about your brilliant brain, even if you do this in your first language.

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