Want your brain back? How about an exercise in sustainability? Andrea Learned explains…

Posted by on Apr 23, 2010 in memory/learning | 2 comments

Remember your Brain on Midlife? Perhaps not! But my pal Andrea Learned wrote a wonderful piece on her blog the other day that I’m stealing. (Well, not really stealing since Andrea, god bless her, has granted me permission to repost it on Flashfree). The theme is sustainability and the gist, that we might be able to boost our midlife brains and preserve all those precious bits of information that seem to swirl around endlessly and never land in the same place. Thanks for the post Andrea!

As a mid-40-something myself, I took heart in an interview Terry Gross did with author Barbara Strauch on NPR’s Fresh Air the other day.  In talking about her new book, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind, Strauch mentioned a few brain science backed facts that bode well especially for those of us “middle-agers” entering into this whole new world of sustainability.  It also made me think we have but one more case to make for any business that is lagging in their efforts on that front.

While I have not yet read the book, following are two points Strauch made in that interview, and why I think there may be sustainability implications:

1) Bi-lateralization.  Younger people tend to use one side of their brain to learn and another to recall.  But, as people age, their brains are more likely to use both sides of the brain to do both tasks.  Along similar lines, research into how women make purchasing decisions, too, cite a more “holistic” process of integrating the linear (left hemisphere thinking) with the relational (right hemisphere thinking).  The sustainability angle?  To think and engage with sustainability, you’ve got to be able to get your brain thinking more bi-laterally.

2) Exercising your frontal cortex.  One way to keep your brain highly functioning is to push it, by doing such things as: “creating a disorienting dilemma,” confronting ideas that are different from your own, or, talking with people with whom you disagree. All of these “challenges” sharpen your brain.  The sustainability angle?  For a lot of business types (and consumers, as well), thinking sustainably is indeed a “disorienting dilemma.”

The connections my own perhaps overly active brain made were these:

– While we’ve got to love what the younger generations bring to the table in terms of passion and enthusiasm for sustainability, we middle-agers may have brains that predispose us to better see all sides of the story and the mission.  Like the younger generations, we are very excited about green for green’s sake and want it to happen NOW.  However, we have the more holistic view that helps us step back and possibly make compromises in order to get to that longer term sustainable ideal.  We are more allowing of the long journey, because we’ve been on it longer.

– It isn’t just me and my marketing to women background.  It makes sense that the way women more naturally think aligns with how we sustainability-advocates would like all business people to start to think – more holistically and more EVERY stakeholder-aware.  What can we all learn from that realization to move sustainability forward?  I believe that women’s buying ways are a great filter both for understanding the sustainably-minded consumer and for training business brains to integrate sustainable practices.

– Finally, being IN the sustainability field is great exercise for our brains!  It automatically puts us in disagreement with a whole host of conventional business thinkers.  It forces us to learn new things almost moment to moment.  If we’ve got long experience in business done the old way, sustainability can be incredibly disorienting .  If all the other fascinating ideas and solutions that come from thinking sustainably weren’t enough, we can selfishly and simply give our own brains major frontal cortex exercise!  (Maybe Barbara Strauch will write her next book about the amazing ways our brains end up changing culture?)

Needless to say, those of you who have been reading my work for years know that my throwing out something new to ponder is par for the course.  I wonder if my brain knew I needed to get into sustainability long before I actually acknowledged it?  Anyway – your counterintuitive “Learned On” lesson for the day is that middle age may well help you engage with and understand sustainability better.  Now, go out and use that oh-so wise brain to make your company smarter too!


  1. 4-23-2010

    This is such an interesting topic – and I love that we 40+-somethings can claim our earned wisdom territory with it. To then use that wisdom for sustainability purposes is just icing on the cake, in my mind.

    While I may not be able to check in a lot today – I will check in over the next few days if anyone has comments or ideas to toss around. Thanks for sharing it, Liz!

  2. 5-17-2010

    Great post! It’s a new information for me. Thanks for posting. I look forward to your next posts.

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