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COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY, DOPAMINE AND LUCK

Anterior cingulate cortex, dopamine, cognitive flexibility and luck (specially for the section An Opinion for Onliner”).

Millions of people start different projects over the world every day, yet but a small part of them succeed. It is surprising as there are lots of successful business patterns around us that seem easy to copy, there are lots of ready secrets of success, plenty of schemes, plans, and strategies – just adopt the idea and utilize it for your benefit. Why doesnt it work then? This is explained by the specific ways of brain work in lucky people and losers. Peculiar functioning of your anterior cingulate cortex determines your luck and success irrespective of education, motivation or assets you have.

Modern scientists are not scared to research such obscure spheres as luck. For many years, Professor Richard Wiseman studied the brain work in people who considered themselves lucky and in losers. For example, he distributed a newspaper to testees requesting to count the number of photos in it. However, the second page featured in capital letters that there were 43 photos in the newspaper, so there was no need to read further. In other tests, there was a caption: reading this, tell it to the testers to get the award of 250 pounds. Lucky ones did notice those signs but losers continued to count all the photos till the end.

What does that prove? The success factor correlates with a broader attention focus of lucky people who dont get obsessed with a current task. This enables them to be flexible, to re-organize quickly and to use available resources most optimally. Lucky people are open for unknown more frequently, trying something new and unusual, socializing with new people. Interesting evidences show that lucky people make mistakes more often than losers do but they recover after mistakes very fast.

As for losers, their attention focus is quite narrow and they ignore and fail to notice anything but their current task. This fixation makes them anxious and obsessed, their goal is to avoid mistakes. They dismiss alternative possibilities and cant step aside their behaviour line, they refuse from everything unusual to them, they narrow the circle of their friends choosing ‘stability, ‘being like others, and ‘what would people say?. Losers search for the ‘ideal solution, sort of ‘miracle, gurus secret that would resolve all their problems at a time. When yet another recipe fails to work, a loser does not make conclusions, but just switches to the next ‘recipe of success. Such a cognitive mistake is known as the ‘mistake of the survived and explains why other peoples secrets of success fail to work.

What does work then? Broad attention focus, striving for new experience, and cognitive flexibility do. Such an ability to switch ones attention focus and to consider several things at once is called cognitive flexibility. The anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for cognitive flexibility. Actually, this is the gearbox in the brain that helps us to switch from one mode to another. It is located between the prefrontal cortex and subcortex processes, thats why conscious and emotional components merge there.

The higher your cognitive flexibility is, the less you suffer from stress. High flexibility enables to efficiently re-schedule activities, adapt to new conditions, to start relationships with new people, to modify behaviour in various situations and to manage changes correctly. People with good cognitive flexibility plan easier, set reasonable goals and switch between various future options without any difficulty. (Han H. D. et al. Performance enhancement with low stress and anxiety modulated by cognitive flexibility // Korean Neuropsychiatric Association. — 1998. — Vol. 7. — P. 221–226.)

However, if your anterior cingulate cortex does not work properly, your brain is as if fixed with a handbrake, like jammed record playing one and the same model despite different situations, aggressive to those who disagree, incapable to collaborate. The less your cognitive flexibility is, the more obsessed you are, the worse you tackle the changes, long for the past, and fear the future that you are unable to foresee. (A Novel Neural Prediction Error Found in Anterior Cingulate Cortex Ensembles Neuron 95(2) · July 2017).

The anterior cingulate cortex is modulated by dopamine, dopamine receptors are highly dense there. Remarkably, the anterior cingulate cortex proper participates in decision making related to will efforts (switching”) and this article dwells on it in detail the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and its dopamine system are crucial for decision making that requires physical/emotional effort» (Learn Behav. 2017 Mar;45(1):89-99. doi: 10.3758/s13420-016-0243-0.The roles of the anterior cingulate cortex and its dopamine receptors in self-paced cost-benefit decision making in rats).

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How to make your mind flexible? Of course, as you may understand, there is no universal recipe for it. But something could be still recommended. First of all, avoid obsessing with one thought or acting option. It is important to consider all ideas, ways including those you dislike. If you feel you are getting obsessed with something, it is important to switch to something else, to have a rest. Practice multiple options and stimulate creativity: always have alternative ways to achieve your goals.

Take it easier. Amazingly, excessive efforts reduce your performance. The Yerkes-Dodson law of optimal motivation states that the best results are obtained with moderate motivation. The more complicated is your objective, the less motivation is required for productivity. That is, high motivation and stress would help you dig a ditch but wouldnt improve the companys work. You will be able to take it easier with humorous attitude, absurdization, paradox, play and spontaneous actions.

Help people. It is interesting that focusing on personal accomplishments suppress the functioning of the anterior cingulate cortex while altruism, compassion, sympathy and gratitude activate the frontal part of cingulate cortex. Help those who happened to be in a worse situation than you are, and you will become more efficient in what you do.

Practice awareness. Of course you can do without orange clothes as in fact, practicing awareness just means deliberate management of attention focus, at present and without estimation. You can meditate or enjoy dancing or other hobbies – you still practice awareness and a flow state.

Instead of trying to find a ready universal solution, you should be attentive to what is happening around you and have lots of alternative options, be open to new experience. Search for instability, it is instability that reveals new opportunities here and now. As any other changes, improving cognitive flexibility starts with realizing the problem. Once we stop fighting with reality, it will give us a wide range of opportunities. The more flexible our mind is, the easier we can reach them.

Of course, respect your dopamine system and dont spoil it with hyperstimulation. (Learn Mem. 2006 Nov-Dec; 13(6): 777–782.Dopamine D1 receptors in the anterior cingulate cortex regulate effort-based decision making).

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