Your Brain at Work – David Rock

Here’s a paper I wrote for my English class, where I was supposed to talk about how this book helped us improve some aspect of ourselves. Here it goes:

Having been an avid reader over the years has made me come to a realization: you are what you read. Reading is capable of changing not only the information in our brains about facts and the world, but it can also fundamentally change who you are and how you think.

Some books are capable of changing us more than others; books we pick up with the intention of reading so we can improve ourselves. A lot of the times we unconsciously absorb information from books, other times we are nudged into consciously learning something about ourselves. “Your Brain At Work” by David Rock is one of these books.

Aimed at people who want to improve themselves and the way they manage their life, I personally found that a lot of routes this book pushes readers to take and improve themselves come naturally to me already. As quoted by Rock in his book, Kevin Oschsner, the head of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at Columbia University says,

Self-awareness is the capacity to step outside your own skin and look at yourself with as close to an objective eye as you possibly can. In many cases it means having a third-person perspective on yourself: imagine seeing yourself through the eyes of another individual (Rock, ).

These are words similar to those I use to explain the very idea to friends during our serious philosophical late-night conversations. Unlike the book, however, I feel that I usually achieve this when I am alone and reflecting over my day instead of in real-time. This detachment from my situation has helped me put my life in perspective, as I take my morality, and my objectivity out with me while leaving my feelings behind and watching my interactions with the world.

This ability to analyze myself, just the way I do others, allows me to see things in third-person and judge myself just the way I would judge others: impartially. And I can be brutal about it too. I don’t shy away from analyzing my most embarrassing moments or some of the most humiliating situations I have managed to get myself into. I learn from my mistakes and I do not mind going back to these moments in retrospect and seeing what I could have done better to salvage some situations. I feel like it has allowed me to change myself and become a better person in a lot of respects and in a lot of ways I have course corrected. I felt like it gave me a new form of control. After all, knowledge is power. If a person knows something about themselves, it makes it easier for them to change whatever aspect of their life they feel is damaging them. It has made me a more mature person too because I realize that this neutrality will allow my moral compass to always point in the direction of fairness; regardless of whether I myself am involved in the situation or someone else is. I feel like I am more forgiving of myself and of others as I realize that everyone is as flawed as I am.

A lot of the times as I read the book, I paused and noticed the things that I was doing that were distracting me; something I should really be paying attention to. I stopped and noticed if I really was losing focus every 3 minutes as I stopped to check my Instagram. Did I really close the book and look out my living room window and daydream? Was it because it was so much easier to check out rather than pay attention to something that required so much effort to decipher and understand? I caught myself multiple times as I sat staring into space at nothing, my mind having wandered far away from the book. I learnt a number of ways I could bring order to the chaos in my mind; by consciously paying attention, prioritizing and doing the difficult tasks first.

Something the book talks about in an indirect manner is procrastination. As I read, I felt that I used to be the person who avoided difficult tasks, but I caught on early that it would just be easier to manage my life if I got things done as and when they entered my problem queue. I found that not only did it make stress-management so much easier, it has in some way really made it easier to solve the problems or tasks. I understand this now because the idea now has a name to it; using your energy in the very beginning allows me to problem-solve efficiently. I automatically prioritize my problems starting with the most difficult, or the most interesting, or according to the closest deadline, and then give my best to it. I also feel like it really does help to mix things up and allow my mind some variety. I do this with my semester courses so I have tasks which differ in content; some are programming problems, that require logic; while some call for creativity, such as writing or designing something; and others need understanding, that just require me to read a text-book.

Another thing I learnt was that it really helped me if I thought about the problem I was meant to solve when I was doing other routine tasks that did not require a lot of attention. A lot of problem solving tasks I am given in class; I discover the solutions to in the shower or in my dreams. My mind churns out the answer to my problems and all I have to do is think about them without the pressure of looking for an answer right then and there.

A lot of what the book did for me was raise awareness about things I felt already existed or came naturally to me. However, there is one aspect of life that I feel this book really will help me “fix”; gaining some form of emotional control in my life. Managing emotions is key to making or breaking relationships and I have ruined quite a few by saying and doing things because I was riled up in an emotional storm. I feel like I really need to become self-aware when I am in an emotional state where I have no control over myself. I need to take a minute and reassess my emotional state before I make rash decisions that eventually make me feel like I have dug a deeper hole for myself.

One other thing I realized I had learnt the hard way, was handling stress; fairness; and status related issues by using reappraisal techniques and applying them at work. I realized that there was a time when I used this technique to change my attitude to a more positive one and deal with nasty situations that could arise at work where I felt my supervisor was being unfair. This severe stress-causing issue made my personal and work life miserable and I realized that I could not let this situation prolong because it would break me mentally. I could either run or I could fix the situation to work in my favor in some way. I activated my “director” (Rock, ) and decided that the best way for me to deal with this issue would be to not cry about fairness, but to make myself indispensable and let my work speak for itself. This would then allow me to feel better about my own situation, increase my status, give me an emotional boost and at the same time I would be in a better position to stand-up for myself.

I believe that the older you grow the more your director starts making appearances and it is all a part of growing up. You become aware of your own motivations and start to control your basic instincts. It is great to read books like these as they reveal to you the nature of our mind and the way it works, giving us more power to control it. At the end of the day, I feel like the director, mindfulness and self-awareness come hand-in-hand with another quality: self-control. This is the ability to stop and pause and just ask yourself this: “Is this really what I want to do?”

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