We have an obsession with successful people. From the small things they do every day to their morning rituals to understanding what makes them different.

I recently had a fascinating conversation with Sue Landay, President of Office Oxygen, who is on a mission to help more people succeed in their jobs. As both a coach and trainer, Landay is in the unique position of staying on top of the latest research on what makes ordinary people extraordinary at their chosen profession.

Some of the latest research has been published in a new book out calledEngaged: The Neuroscience Behind Creating Productive People in Successful Organizations.

In this book, author Amy Brann explains that companies can both support their employees and strengthen their organizations by understanding what shapes our brains and then altering their workplaces accordingly. According to the latest neuroscience, here are the three most important things successful people do at work: (1) Engaged Focus, (2) Eliminate Negative Self-Talk, and (3) Flow.

1. Engaged focus:  minimize mind wandering.

In today’s hyper-connected business environment, we are bombarded by endless distractions vying for our attention. Brann explains that “successful people have trained their brain to stay fully alert to the task at hand. They remind themselves why they are doing what they are doing and prime themselves for their work before they engage in the activity.” As they grow more productive, they also remain more engaged in their work.

“Many executives keep fidget toys in their office because tactile tools are known to be a less distracting way to use the ‘floating attention’ that’s wired into our brains,” Landay says. “Some swear by Brian Tracy’s “Eat that Frog” approach–Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” In other words, successful people tackle their toughest challenge first thing in the morning, pointedly ignoring all distractions until their proverbial “frog” has been eaten.

2. Eliminate negative self-talk through mindfulness.

The average brain has up to 50,000 thoughts each day and most of them are negative. “If work isn’t stressful enough as it is, we have our own brains to contend with. Most of us are our own worst critic,” says Landay.

Brann’s research found that successful people are more aware of their own negative self-talk, and have trained their brains to acknowledge it for what it is. Because they are better able to regulate their thoughts of self-doubt, successful people can devote more time to being truly awesome at whatever task requires their attention. In fact, Mindfulness has been linked to:

  • People being more aware of their unconscious processes.
  • People having more cognitive control.
  • People having a greater ability to shape what they do and say.

Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment and bringing a larger awareness to your emotions and thoughts as they happen.

3. Flow: strike the right balance between your skills and challenges.

Once you’ve tamed the distractions and the inner demons putting you down, you can turn your attention to maximizing your full potential and finding your way to stay in “Flow.”  Brann explains, when a person reaches a state of Flow (that perfect balance between a person’s skill level and the challenge they are solving), several things happen in the brain. Brann cites neuroscience published in Oxford University Press from Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi who found Flow associated with:

  • An intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
  • The merging of actions and awareness.
  • A loss of reflective self-consciousness.
  • A sense of personal control over the situation.
  • Temporal distortion (normally time slowing down).
  • The experience is intrinsically rewarding.

“To get into Flow,” Landay says “these successful people are doing two things: (1) seeking out training and (2) leveraging their core strengths. Training builds people’s capability and confidence, enabling them to take on more challenges, more risks and try new things. Then, with increased awareness of their core strengths, high-performance employees can leverage these abilities, looking for new opportunities to apply and grow their natural gifts and talents. We also find that these folks tend to help colleagues do the same.”

Understanding the neuroscience of your brain at work can help you boost productivity and become even more successful in your business. By modeling yourself after the most successful people in your company, you too will be able to deliver higher productivity while increasing job satisfaction. The winning formula has been, and will always be, building personal and team engagement through focus, mindfulness, and flow.