Could our brains hold the secret to a better world? Dr. Mark Williams is an Award Winning Neuroscientist and Director of Rethinking the Brain, an educational neuroscience company that offers insights and information based on decades of research on how the human brain works to boost learning, productivity and well-being. In this thought-provoking episode, we delve into our brain’s complex relationship with technology, why we seem more busy and unproductive in today’s world, and shed light on the neuroscience behind learning.

🎙️Talking Points:

(1:46) How can our brain help us reach our full potential?

(3:53) What you can do to avoid suffering

(6:40) Training our brains to adapt

(11:40) Using technology to be more effective

(17:26) Are we all busy?

(23:00) Multitasking and automating activities

(26:08) Understanding the way our brain learns

🔗Connect with Mark:

🔗Connect with Tom: 

Tom Finn:

Welcome, welcome to the Talent Empowerment Podcast. We're here to help you love your job. We're going to unpack the tools and tactics of successful humans to guide you towards your own career empowerment. I am your purpose driven host, Tom Finn. And on the show today, we have Dr. Mark Williams, Mark, thrilled to have you on the show. Welcome.

Mark Williams:

Thank you so much for having me on Tom. It's really great to be here.

Tom Finn:

Well, if you haven't had a chance to meet Mark, let me take a moment to just run through his background, which is incredibly impressive. He's worked with thousands of students, teachers, and health professionals, company directors, keen to understand how their brain works, how to perform optimally and maintain a healthy brain. He runs programs on neuroscience of learning, the neuroscience of emotion, how our brain creates our reality, and the impact of modern technology. on our brain, so all very topical items that are important to our day-to-day lives. And if you're wondering, he has an extensive academic background in brain research and teaching. He's a professor of cognitive neuroscience with over 25 years experience conducting behavioral and brain imaging research focused on our social skills. He's taught the fundamentals of neuroscience to a wide range of students. He's published more than 70 scientific articles. He's worked at a little institution called MIT in the United States and multiple universities in Australia. He's got a book coming out, which we'll talk about in a little bit. But before we get to that, Mark, how does the inner workings of the brain and understanding that for individuals actually help us reach our full potential?

Mark Williams:

That's a big question Tom. How many hours have you got?

Tom Finn:

Take as long as you want.

Mark Williams:

To begin with I think knowledge is power so that's just number one and I think that doesn't matter whether you're talking about the brain or anything else in your life having knowledge and understanding how something works enables us to then use it better and our brain is us. the most important asset that we actually have because it does everything right. It's not only the thing that creates our reality, our perception. It's a thing that allows us to communicate with people. It's a thing that allows us to think, to know what we've done in the past and what we're going to do in the future. It is what generates our emotions. It allows us to sleep at night. It's what causes stress in us. It's what causes anxiety in us. Um, and you know, it enables us to move. It is us, it's everything that we are. And when you ask even a child, where are you? They'll usually point to their heads because they know that they're in their brains, right? So understanding that and understanding how it works better I think is really important. And it's why I moved from academia to actually working in the public arena and working with organizations because I realized that there's a lot of myths out there about the brain and how the brain works. And We've come a long way in the last 20 years in academia, but we haven't actually translated that in a way that is getting into organizations and getting to people so that people can actually use it to actually have better lives and have better organizations. And so, yeah, having brain healthy organizations in that brain healthy world, I think is really important and even more important now than ever before, because there's a lot of suffering out there and we could stop a lot of that suffering if we actually just understood. wire to caring and do small things to actually eliminate a lot of those problems.

Tom Finn:

So let's start there. What are some of the small things that we can do to avoid suffering?

Mark Williams:

So number one is just spending time with people. The best treatment for mental health issues, the best way to actually improve your mental health and the best way to actually increase your lifespan is just to sit down with someone who you trust on a regular basis and have a chat with them. That's the easiest thing to do, is just to sit down and chat with them. And research now coming out suggests that... just sitting down with someone that you trust on a regular basis, face to face, not over the internet and not texting away or doing any of those things, but actually just face to face and have a real conversation with them, can increase your lifespan by up to 15 years. It decreases things like cardiovascular problems, it decreases your issues with heart problems. It is extremely important thing for us to do because it's something that we've done for millions of years and our brains have actually evolved to enable us to do that. And chatting to someone actually activates more of your brain, exercises more of your brain than anything else you can do. So you know you can chuck away all those apps that you've got on your phone that are making your brain smarter. All you've got to do is sit down and chat with someone and that will actually make your brain smarter than anything else you can do. And such an easy thing to do, right, just to sit down and chat with someone. And yet we're doing it far less today than we've ever done in the past. And we need to do it more often. Because it's also... better for mental health than any drug we've got out there. The pharmaceutical companies get all upset when I say this, but it's actually true. Sitting down and chatting with someone is better for your mental health than any drug that we currently have available. So, you know, it's such an important thing to do, and yet, as I said, we're doing it far less, and it's so cheap, right? Costs you nothing, or costs you a cup of coffee, if you're gonna have a cup of coffee, or even better, you can just go for a walk with someone and chat with them, and it's not gonna cost you anything at all, and yet, he's going to, as I said, decrease the likelihood that you'll get... Alzheimer's disease early on, it'll decrease the likelihood of you having other neurodegenerative diseases later on in life. It'll decrease the likelihood of you having cardiovascular problems. It'll decrease the likelihood of you dying young and so on. So it's really important and it's easy. So easy.

Tom Finn:

So what do we do about those folks that have acute issues like depression or even a lighter issue like anxiety where folks have a hard time having a conversation because there is something going on that is holding them back from feeling safe in that particular environment. Help me with that class of people because we're seeing a rise, certainly in anxiety results globally. How do we help with that?

Mark Williams:

Yeah, the problem is that our brains are plastic, so our brains are constantly changing to the environment we're in, which is really a positive thing and a negative thing. So it's similar to a muscle. So if you use different abilities, they become stronger and you get better at them. And if you don't use certain abilities or don't do certain things, then those abilities decrease and therefore slowly atrophy. And so one of the problems we have at the moment is we're spending less time with people. And so therefore when we spend time with people, we actually feel anxious about it because we've been spending less time with people. So we need to spend more time with people so that our brain adapts to that and we get used to actually spending time with people. So we'll spend more time with people. Now of course in the old days, you didn't have any choice, right? You had to go out and spend time with people because there's no other way of actually getting around or doing things. Now we've got an excuse, right? We've got the phones. We can actually distract ourselves by looking at the phone rather than... looking at the person beside us when we're waiting for the elevator or when we're sitting in a meeting waiting for the meeting to start, we'll all pull out our phones and look at those rather than actually talking to someone. But that means that our brains are getting used to looking at the phone rather than actually talking to someone, so we're not actually doing it as often and therefore our brains aren't used to that anymore. But it needs to be used to that because that's how we've evolved and that's what's actually much better for us. And it's also resulted in organizations. in a decrease in productivity. Productivity amongst workers these days is far worse than it's ever been. Collaboration is far worse than it's ever been. Innovation creativity is far worse than it's ever been in the past. And all of these things have decreased because of the fact that there's no discussions over the water cooler anymore. There's no discussions before meetings and after meetings anymore because everyone just pulls out their phone or pulls up their laptop or whatever. And so we need to change things so that people don't do that and actually chat to each other. When was the last time that you actually spoke to a stranger while you were waiting for an elevator? Now I'm betting most people have never done it. Probably can't remember the last time they did it because they were all looking at their phones, right? Yeah, and yet that used to be something we'd do regularly and something we would do on, yeah. And it's so important for us to actually do that, and we're not doing it. And there's good reasons for that, right? We get a whole bunch of neurotransmitters released when we do that, which actually increase our positivity and increase the likelihood of us, you know, being connected to people around us and all those sorts of things. And those neurotransmitters, we're not getting, and we don't get them when we're online and we don't get them when we try to connect online.

Tom Finn:

So you're not anti-technology, you're just saying there's a point that we need to put the technology down.

Mark Williams:

Yeah, I think the technology is great. I'm a neuroscientist and I've worked on several think tanks for Canon and Fujitsu and all these sorts of things. I mean, technology is awesome. And it could be moving our society forward and it could be making all our lives better. But the way it's set up and the way we're using it at the moment is actually negative, right? It's actually having a negative impact on us. So our intelligence for the first time in our history is actually going down. So intelligence is decreasing societies where we use a lot of technology because of the way we're using it. It could be making us smarter, but it's actually making us dumber. We're also having an increase in attention deficit disorder, ADHD, and autism and these things because of the fact that we're using these technologies all the time in the wrong way. If we use them in the right way, if we use them in positive ways, we could be more productive and we could be more innovative and we could be more creative. But when unfortunately we're not and so if we change those things and it only takes very simple tweaks in companies and in organisations to actually change these things so that you're doing it in the right way and you're doing it in a positive way, then we could increase intelligence and we could increase innovation and creativity and we could increase brain health within organisations which would end up making us all more productive. Organisations will be making more money. People would want to stay at the organisations more because they're actually happy there and they've got... people that they like there and they've actually got connections there that they want to add them to actually thrive as well as themselves and they want the organisation to thrive. Rather than the situation we've got at the moment where everyone just goes to work to get a pay package and then comes home and then feels lousy and then goes, oh I'm going to change jobs and then goes to another job and does the same thing and doesn't get those connections and so therefore don't end up staying there for long periods of time.

Tom Finn:

So what are the things that are working with the human brain and technology? And then of course, my follow-up question is going to be, what are those things that are not working? But I always like to start with the positive. I don't want to start with the negative. 

Mark Williams:

Yeah, no, definitely.

Tom Finn:

So let's start with, with what's working with technology and the human brain and how that's helping us be more effective.

Mark Williams:

So I mean, it's an awesome, if you use it in a way where what you're doing is using it to save information and then to analyze that information, a large amount of information, it's really good at doing that, is analyzing large amounts of information. And it can do that really well. So we're using technology now to analyze scans of say, breast scans to pick up tumors and so on in breasts so that we can pick up breast cancer much earlier on. in brain scans to pick up brain tumors much earlier on because it can do those sorts of really neat analysis really well and really quickly which we're not very good at as humans. And so those things are things that we should be using the technology for. And if you've got information that you want to store for long periods of time, then we should be doing that. For example, you know, the phone, when you get a text or when you get an email, you can actually just save that. You don't actually have to look at it straight away because the phone is really good at actually saving that information. So we should be using the phone in a way that enables us to put off looking at emails and put off looking at texts and put off looking at all that information. Unfortunately we don't, right? What we do is we have notifications on our phones so that it beeps every time we get an email and beeps every time we get a notification, which means we look at it every time that happens which distracts us from the real world, which is what we're doing wrong, right? And that's what we're doing wrong is we're actually... responding to our phones all the time. We're treating our phones as though they don't have a very good memory and we've got to constantly check it to make sure it's okay. And we're treating it almost like, you know, a baby where it's in need of our attention constantly and it's not. And so we should be doing the reverse of what we're actually doing and that would be really good for our brains because then we'd have more capacity to be here in the real world and be innovative and creative and do all these things rather than be constantly looking at the phone and looking at that information. that we should be saving for later.

Tom Finn:

Do you think that as a society, and this can be anywhere in the world really, we've gotten so used to immediate gratification. Like, let me give you the example. When somebody sends me a text, if I don't respond right away, all of a sudden I'm the bad guy. A lot of times I'll take a day. You know, if it's not a big deal, it's not a high priority item. It's just some sort of general conversation. I might take a day to respond. But. A lot of people will look at that and say, ooh, you're not being a good friend.

Mark Williams:

Yeah, and I think people need to grow up, right? That's just nuts. Like, we're not. And I think people don't realize how much noise they're creating by doing that, right? Because, you know, each time you send a text, what you're doing is you're interrupting someone else's life. And I think people need to be more respectful of their friends and know that this person has a life and they're doing other things right now. And so we should be putting more meaning on what we're doing in the real world and less meaning on what we're doing virtually, right? Whereas we've got it the arse way around. We've got it where what's virtually is actually way more important than what's here in the real world. I mean, I don't know how many times I get frustrated when people will answer a text when I'm actually chatting to them. And it's like, I'm here and I'm giving you my time and you're texting with someone who's not giving you their time, right? They're somewhere else in the world doing something else that... So why is it that they're a bigger priority to you than me who's here in front of you and giving you my actual time and patience, right? So we need to change that. We need to make people realize that they need to be more respectful of their friends and their colleagues. And when someone's actually here in front of you, they're the priority. They're the person that we should be actually interacting with and they're the person we should be giving our time. And anything that happens on those devices, that's for later. when you actually have the time to actually look at it. And what's really interesting is if you actually turn off all your notifications, all your notifications, your mental health will improve within a week if you actually do that. People's mental health improves within a week if all their notifications are turned off their phone. So, you know, it is having a significant impact on our mental health issues. And so we need to all think about turning them off. And so I do, I have all my notifications turned off my phone. And then I schedule into my day when I'm actually going to look at them because I decide when I'm going to look at my phone rather than everyone, you know, the thousands of people who I have contact with deciding when I'm going to actually look at my phone. Because that's just nuts, right? I'm not going to be led around by the nose by all those people out there.

Tom Finn:

Well, this is actually getting under the hood of something that I think is a, is another global issue, which is this issue of busy, we're busy, we're all busy. It might not be that we're actually busy or doing more work than we were two decades ago, it's just that our phones are populating all of these notifications, some from friends, some from app providers that want us. to go into the app for more utilization for their own selfish purposes, for us to buy something, or check in on the sale, or buy a new belt, or whatever it is. And so this idea of turning off notifications I love, but where do you stand on the notion that as cultures around the world, we're now officially just all busy?

Mark Williams:

Yeah, it's crazy. We're more busy today. We perceive ourselves as being more busy today than we ever have been in the past. But we're less productive today than we've ever been in the past. So we're getting less shit done, which is ridiculous, right? That we all feel as though we've got so much to do and so little time. And yet we're getting less done, which means that there's something going wrong. And what's going wrong is that we're constantly distracted. And what you need to realize is that We're not capable of multitasking. Multitasking is something that only a computer can do. And it's something that a computer does really well and something that we as humans can't do because of the fact that our work in memory is really limited. And so our work in memory is only capable of concentrating on one thing at a time. So right now, hopefully you're listening to my voice and trying to interpret what I'm saying and either agreeing with me or not agreeing with me. But you can't be doing other things at the same time. And when you do, you're actually then task switching. So you're switching to that new thing. And when you task switch, you actually lose the last 90 seconds of what you were doing. So each time you get a notification on your phone or on your laptop or whatever it happens to be, each time that happens, your attention goes to that thing, if you answer it or not, and you lose the last 90 seconds of what you were doing. So each time you get a beep or a buzz or whatever, you lose the last 90 seconds of what you were doing. You lose the last 90 seconds of your day. Now if you think about how many times you get a notification either on your laptop or on your computer or on your phone, each day you count up how many times that happens and then you times it by 90 seconds. That's how much of your day you lose. And it's just lost because you've actually wiped your working memory each time that happens and so you've wiped the last 90 seconds of what you've been doing.

Tom Finn:

So what do you mean we actually lose it and we've wiped our working memory? Help me understand.

Mark Williams:

So your working memory is only capable of holding, it used to be capable of holding seven items in your working memory at any one time. So if I, so in the old days we used to, all phone numbers used to only be six digits long, and they're only six digits long because we didn't have anything to hold them in, such as a smartphone. And we had to remember those six digits, plus we needed one slot open so that we could actually dial the phone in the old days when we had to, well you had to. dial a phone. So that's why phone numbers are only six digits long because we only have seven slots in our working memory so only capable of holding seven digits six digits plus one to actually dial it and you might be old enough to remember you know if you are if someone told you the number that you've got to dial and then they ask you a question then you forget the number that you were supposed to dial and you'd have to ask them again. That's your working memory that's what you've got in and the reason you lost those numbers was because they asked you a question, which means you switched to that new task. You were distracted by that new task that you were doing and because we're not able to multitask. So that's where you're losing that 90 seconds. So you lost that phone number. So each time we switch, because for us to actually put that information from our working memory into our, into this temporary store, which then gets stored, shifts it over into our long-term memory. it needs to be held in our long in our working memory for long enough. Yeah so if you get distracted then you lose the last 90 seconds of that information or whatever you were doing in your working memory and it never gets shifted to your temporary store so you haven't got that information anymore. So if you were thinking about or you were reading a book for example and then someone distracts you or your phone beeps yeah then you'll have to go back 90 seconds to remember what you're actually reading. Or if you're watching a movie, you'll have to go back 90 seconds or you'll have to ask whoever you're with, what just happened, because I missed it. But it happens at work too, so every time your phone beeps at work, you lose the last 90 seconds. Most of us don't realise, and that's why we get so frustrated, because we're losing all these little chunks of time every day. And so therefore, that's why we're not as productive as we have been. in the past because we never have these periods or blocks where we actually concentrate for a period of time.

Tom Finn:

I feel like I'm a cartoon character right now with my jaw on the floor. And you have just opened up this perspective that I have been challenged with personally for a long time. And it's not that I overcook, Mark, the beeps, and it's not that I overcook my phone. I really don't actually, but I do have an issue when I get interrupted. I have a hard time getting myself back. And I've always thought it was a me issue. that I've got some sort of inability to redirect my energy or think through things a little more consistently memorize things, that I've got a bad memory, those types of things. I've always sort of pointed the thumb at myself and said, this is a me issue. And I think what I'm hearing you say is actually Tom, the science says, this is the way the human brain works and you're not supposed to be interrupted all day and you're not supposed to multitask. which by the way, my wife completely disagrees with you. With the evidence of her own performance as an example, an N of one, if you will.

Mark Williams:

Yeah, well she's obviously a very good switcher, so she switches constantly from one thing to another. But you can't do two things at once. You can if it's a simple motor task which you can perform easily. So someone who is a piano player for example or a guitarist, they'll get the motor plan down first and when they're trying to learn that they've got to concentrate on it and they can't task switch when they're doing that. up and running and it actually works automatically, then you can actually do that and do something else at the same time because you're no longer using your working memory. So if it's something that you don't need cognition for, if you don't need to actually think about it, then yes you can do that thing in the background while you're thinking and use your working memory for something else. But it's only things that are really automated like something if you've learned a musical instrument you're really good at that. If someone say cooking and they've cooked that thing lots and lots of times, they can do it automatically without actually thinking about it. But those things are things that become habits basically and so therefore you can do it without actually thinking. But you can't do anything, you've actually got to think about two things at the same time.

Tom Finn:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So if I'm playing the piano and then I want to sing, I learn the keys first. And once I have that down and my muscle and motor memory is consistent, then I can start to learn the words, put that together and create the music that I'm looking for. Same thing, you know, I've got kids for days. We have four of them. And when I'm holding our youngest, who's an infant. I can have a conversation with my wife, with a sleeping baby, walking around the room, because I'm used to it, and I can cognitively be present with her or be on the phone with someone because I've done it before. Is that sort of the gist?

Mark Williams:

Yeah, exactly. So the motor tasks and the things like that, it's like walking, right? We can, when you first learn to walk, you can't concentrate on other things while you're trying to walk. Or if someone has a stroke and loses the ability to walk and then they're trying to learn how to walk again, then it's really hard and they've got to just concentrate on that. But once we get to the point of being able to walk without thinking about it, then we can do other things while we're actually doing that. And then you've got a lot of other abilities that you learn and they become automated. And then... and then they shift to a different area of the brain. So therefore you can use your working memory for other things during those things. But they're, yeah, they're special things that we actually learn to become automatic in.

Tom Finn:

So Mark, how do we use your research and the work that you've done to better understand our brains when it comes to learning? So learning could be on the job learning, learning could be in a social setting, but how do we, how do we use our brains to learn faster, more efficiently to take in more data as we, as we grow?

Mark Williams:

Yeah, so there's a couple of things. The first thing, so there's five real keys to learning. And the first one is connection. You've actually got to connect with the person that you're actually learning from. So we learn extremely quickly from someone that we feel connected with, someone that we actually trust. And we don't learn from people, we don't trust. And that makes real sense from an evolutionary point of view because humans are really good learners. We're actually really good at learning from each other, social learning. And so... we didn't want to learn from people that we didn't trust, right, in groups that might be trying to do us harm, but we do want to learn from people who we do trust and within our group and so, you know, so that makes a really a lot of sense and we actually hear people differently, depending on whether we're connected with them or not connected with them, like literally hear them differently and we actually find them more attractive and we're more likely to trust them and therefore connect with them and therefore learn from them. So If you're a leader or if you're a trainer and you actually want to train someone before you actually start doing that You can't just assume that they're gonna trust you or that they're actually going to connect with you straight away You've actually got to make that process happen first. You've actually got to connect with them first And so that's an important process before you start trying to teach someone or before you start onboarding someone or before you start You know training them into a new technique or whatever it happens to be is you've got to connect with them first and then you can start teaching them what you want to teach them. Then the second thing is you have to remember that the new stuff if it's not already in their long-term memory it has to be held in that working memory first for long enough to be transferred to a temporary store for it then to go into the long-term memory for it therefore to be something which is learned and something that they'll remember for a long period of time. So during that period they can't have any distractions. you could eliminate all the distractions, which is why just having a phone beside you means that you actually learn stuff a lot less. So having a phone beside you actually decreases your intelligence, yeah, just by having it beside you. And it also decreases your working memory capacity, your capacity to actually hold things in your working memory and transfer them to your long-term memory. So you need to get rid of the distractions when you're actually trying to learn. so that you can actually learn. One of the really cool techniques is to use a thing called Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro technique is a study done by Italian researchers and you just set a timer for 25 minutes and just focus on one thing at a time. And that's really good because what you're doing is A, you're training your working memory and your attention mechanisms. So we talked about before, your brain is plastic and it's constantly changing. And so if you're doing the Pomodoro technique on a regular basis. Those areas of your brain that hold your attention and control your working memory get stronger. So you're actually better at it. So you'll be better at not being distracted by other things if you do that regularly. Plus you get stuff done, right? Because you've got 25 minutes where you just focus on one thing and that'll get into your long-term memory much better because you're just focusing on that and you're not task switching all the time.

Tom Finn:

Yeah, and at the end of that technique, the 25 minutes, my understanding is you're supposed to take a five minute break, get up physically, move around, move your body, get some good blood flow going, and then you can come back down, set the timer, do another 25 minutes, right?

Mark Williams:

That's correct, yeah. And the optimal time to do it is to do it to do four of those sessions, which is a two hour period. And then you have a longer break where you can do other things. And so what I usually do is in the morning, I'll set the two hours and I'll set it up. So I do four sessions of two hours. And then after that, then I'll check my emails and stuff. So I get a good two hours of solid work done in the morning where I'm undistracted and I can get stuff done. And then I'll check my emails and get distracted. all that sort of stuff and then the rest of my day's screen. But I get that first two hours and I get more done in that two hours than I usually do in the rest of the day because of the fact that I'm concentrating and I'm getting stuff done. But I think organizations, if there's people out there who run organizations, if you set up your organization where people are doing that on a regular basis, you'll get a lot more productivity out of your individuals and they'll feel healthier. and the mental health will improve because of the fact they're not being distracted for periods of time.

Tom Finn:

So we went through how to use neuroscience in learning. And the first one was connection. And the second one was uninterrupted working memory, is kind of the way I have it. What’s number three?

Mark Williams:

Number three is engagement. So that's actually, you're interested in doing this, whatever it happens to be. So it has to be something that you're actually interested in doing. So obviously, if you just got a new job and you're going through the onboarding process, hopefully you are engaged in that process and therefore you're interested in doing it. But you have to be engaged in the process. So it has to be something that you actually wanna learn. It's impossible to teach someone something that they don't wanna learn. It's something that... people i don't think consider enough when they do change in your organization so organizations are going to change you know we're going to be changing that organization always new things are going to happen and usually it doesn't work very well at all and a lot of that has to do with engagement because i haven't explained and caught all the employees engaged in the process they haven't actually established within them that this is important and this is why we're doing it So engagement is the third thing, which is really, really important. And then the fourth thing is error feedback. So we don't actually learn by being correct. So w which logically makes sense, right? If I turn around to you and say, um, uh, yeah. If I turn around and ask you, is a whale a fish? You of course know whales, not a fish, it's a mammal. And so you just go no, and you knew the answer to that, right? You haven't learned anything from that. Whereas if I turned around and said, is a, I don't know, something that you didn't know, a flamingo's... able to, well you probably know if they're able to eat brackish water or something like that, I don't know, I have to come up with a question that you didn't know, then you actually learn something. So we actually learn by being incorrect, which is why we need organizations to have psychological safety so that people can be incorrect all the time or make mistakes a lot because that's actually how we learn. Our brains are set up to test hypotheses and therefore work out why they're wrong and then correct those rather than simply being correct all the time. And it's one of the things that I work with schools a lot because schools of course are all about kids being correct all the time and you know, aren't answering questions correctly. Whereas that stuff is nonsense and it's a complete waste of time because when they're correct they're not learning anything. And so what you want is you want them to be incorrect. You want them to be willing to be incorrect. And then you can explain to them why they're incorrect. And then they actually learn something from that switch. So yeah, the fourth one is error feedback. And then the last one is consolidation. So you need to actually consolidate the information. So I think of it as sort of like, long-term memory has been this big warehouse. And a lot of people, when they learn, they just sort of dump the stuff in the warehouse. And then three months later, they try and retrieve that information. and they can't find it because they can't remember where they put it. And so by consolidation what you're doing is you're trying to link it to stuff that you already know or related to things that you already know. So I remember when I was doing physics way back when I was also big into records. This was back when you had records, you know, and they used to go around and around on the turntable. And physics teacher was trying to teach us about waves and standing waves. and he knew I was into records and so he then described the standing wave as the needle on the record as it went round, which made a lot of sense to me in relation to a standing wave. And I've never forgotten that, right? Because I linked it to something that I already knew, yeah? And so it then consolidated in that area. So now whenever I think about how would I explain to someone about standing waves, I just think of the record and the needle on it and that's a really easy way to actually explain what a standing wave is rather than... movement wave is. So that's the fifth way is the consolidation.

Tom Finn:

So I missed on the second one. Did you have one word that you gave the second one?

Mark Williams:

The attention so our ability to focus on one thing, you have to keep your attention on that one thing.

Tom Finn:

All right, so let me see if I've got this. I think, let's test my work here. So the neuroscience of learning in its simplest form says that we need five areas to really be effective at learning with the brain. So the first one is we've gotta have a connection. We've gotta have trust with the person that's teaching us. If we don't have that trust, we're gonna hear people differently. We're not gonna connect. The second one. is we've got to have attention. We've got to have our working memory. We've got to take that and it gets stored, and that moves into a long-term memory position, and we're able to have attention and focus on the data. The third one is engagement. We've got to have interest in doing whatever the thing is that we're learning. That one seems straightforward. The fourth one is error feedback, and this one comes up for people. Do I learn more when it works or do I learn more when it doesn't work? The science tells us you learn more when you don't know what's going on, which is a good one. And then I heard the fifth as consolidation. Consolidation is really relating the learning to something that you know that you can recall later. Those are the five areas that the brain tells us we need. to really effectively learn over a period of time.

Mark Williams:

That's beautiful. Well done.

Tom Finn:

All right, well right.

Mark Williams:

You learned something.

Tom Finn:

Well, I passed. I passed today.

Mark Williams:

Yes, absolutely, 100%.

Tom Finn:

I love it. I think this is so interesting for people because we're all trying to figure out this massive issue of being busy where we started this conversation, Mark. And a lot of people are trying to figure out why am I so busy and so unproductive? And you've just given us all the playbook on why we feel that way. And you've also given us the playbook on how to fix it. So thank you-

Mark Williams:

Absolutely.

Tom Finn:

For your however many years of scientific research.

Mark Williams:

I'm sorry.

Tom Finn:

In excess of 25 years in this space, doing some great work. I appreciate it. Now, I know you've got a new book coming out. You've got a book that's going to be in the market. Tell us a little bit about that. I'd love to go out and read it, but I'd love to know a little bit from you what it's about.

Mark Williams:

Yeah, so it's called The Connected Species, How the Evolution of our Brain Can Change the World. That's a big title, I know, but it's based on my last 25 years of research. A lot of the stuff that we've been talking about in relation to how we learn and how our brains actually work and therefore how we need to go forwards rather than where we're stuck at the moment. And so how we stop being so busy and we start being productive again, which I think is really important. So it goes, each chapter has tips at the end based on the stuff that we talk about. So you can actually change it in your own life. So obviously one of them is turn off all your notifications. Let everyone know that you've turned off all your notifications and then use your phone as it was originally designed, which is you actually talk on it. So it'll ring when someone calls you and you let people know that if they actually want you, they need to call you and you'll actually have a chat to them. And if not, you'll get to their notifications when you actually. have time to do that and you're not with people. And so we need to focus on that. And then it also explains why it is so important to actually go face to face with people, why it's so important to actually sit opposite someone and actually interact with them and why we don't get the same buzz and why we don't get the same neurotransmitters released when we do it online and therefore why there's so many issues with being online and why you feel pretty shit after being online. whereas you don't when you're actually face to face. Because when we're face to face, one really simple example of that is when we're face to face, we actually touch each other and touch is really, really important. And it doesn't matter what society, there's some way of actually touching each other appropriately when we actually meet up. So stoic societies like here in Australia and over there in the US, you'll shake hands with each other and that's a form of touch. Even the innuents, right, will rub noses because it's only a bit of their skin that's actually showing and so that's the bit that they actually rub. All societies do that and there's a reason for that is that we have C fibers in our skin and these C fibers in our skin are only there for touch. That's the only reason we have them and when you touch someone oxytocin is released in their brain and oxytocin actually makes you more likely to connect with that person, more likely to trust that person and be open to actually have a relationship you don't get that when you're online because you don't have the touch. So we don't get the oxytocin. So we're missing out on that really important opportunity to actually connect with the person. Without that, we don't get those connections. And so therefore, and that's neurotransmitter that we miss out on. So doing it online is sort of like, I use the analogy of fast food. So when you're doing it online, it's like going to a fast food restaurant, you get a hit of dopamine. and it's really easy to do, you can just drive in there, you can buy it, you can eat it, get a hit of dopamine, but then you feel shit afterwards and it's gonna kill you pretty quickly if you do that every day and do nothing else. Same as online, if you're just connecting with people online, you only get a hit of dopamine, you usually feel pretty shit afterwards because you haven't had that real connection, you haven't had all those really important neurotransmitters and endorphins that you need, and you're not gonna live as long because we know by actually face to face, agn-tracking with people face to face will actually increase your lifespan. by up to 15 years. So we need to be doing that more often. And then a whole bunch of other stuff around how our brains actually work, how to communicate better with people, how to relate to people better. Even the idea that we've been talking a lot about being busy, but just stopping when we actually talk to someone. So we have this problem now because we're all busy and we're all in a rush, people will actually talk over each other or they'll talk as soon as the other person stops talking. So someone will be talking and then the next person will talk as soon as they stop. In the old days we used to actually have a little gap because that little gap was an opportunity for the person who was listening to actually listen and then think about what the person had said and then respond to what they said rather than just saying what they want to say. Now people just talk over each other or they just talk with no gaps in between which what you're doing is you're telling the person you're talking to is I'm not listening to you I'm just going to tell you what I want you to tell you. so that we can get out of here, because I don't really want to be here. And you're not actually giving them a response to what they're saying, you're simply responding to what you want to actually tell them. So just little things like that. When I work with leaders, the first thing we do is learn how to actually stop in between conversations. So when someone finishes what they've had to say, you give them a second, so you're actually saying to them, I just listened to what you said, I'm thinking about it right now, and then I'm going to actually respond. But yeah, lots of little tips like that.

Tom Finn:

Well, I cannot wait for the book to be on my doorstep. I'm gonna order it immediately and check it out. And if somebody wanted to get in touch with you, Dr. Mark Williams, how would they go about doing that?

Mark Williams:

The best place, just go to my website which is DrMarkWilliams.com, that's DR and then MarkWilliams.com. On there you can contact me, there's a contact page on there or you can sign up to my newsletter which is free and you'll get lots of information about what I'm doing and what's happening and tips and tricks on how to live a better, healthier life if you want to do that as well. And then there's a whole bunch of programs on there, all sorts of stuff you can have a look at.

Tom Finn:

Well, in taking your advice, my friend, I'm going to have to wrap up this virtual podcast and I'm going to have to get out of this room and go sit down with some people in person while turning my phone off simultaneously and engaging in a conversation. I, I love the conversation. I love what you're studying and what you're doing for all of us to help us live healthier, better, more productive lives. So thank you for taking on your life's work and just doing a terrific job at it. Really appreciate it.

Mark Williams:

Thank you so much for having me on Tom. And I hope you get a big buzz out of sitting down with someone and having a chat. I'm sure you will. And I love what you're doing at the podcast. It's great.

Tom Finn:

Yeah, appreciate it, my friend. And thank you all for joining the Talent Empowerment Podcast. We hope you've discovered your true calling, found your dream career, are living your best life, or most importantly, putting your phone down and engaging in one-on-one in-person conversation with friends, loved ones, colleagues, and even people that you don't know. Get ready to dive back into all things career and happiness on the next episode. We'll see you then.

Tom Finn
Podcaster & Co-Founder

Tom Finn (he/him) is an InsurTech strategist, host of the Talent Empowerment podcast, and co-founder and CEO of an inclusive people development platform.

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