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It’s not you – it’s your brain!

It's not you it's your brain

At a recent presentation on the topic of Managing Self and Influencing Others Through Change, I spoke about the huge changes that have been experienced in the technology arena. And, as a result of this, societal expectations have also changed incredibly – I’m sure you’ve experienced the warp speed like the pace of living and the ‘want it now’ response times expected.

What hasn’t evolved so fast, is our brain!

That’s important because it means that the threat responses our brains have evolved with are often in hyperdrive.  Our brains’ default is to experience a threat response, or a ‘negativity bias’; and critically, it’s non-conscious.  And, in times of change, our own threat responses can be triggered by other people, or indeed, we can trigger other people’s threat responses and negativity bias.

It’s useful to think of bias in this sense as a mental short cut.  And we need those mental shortcuts to be able to deal efficiently with the millions of bits of information that are bombarding our brain all day, every day.  We live in a ‘noisy’, multi-sensory world.

So, what does that mean for me during change?

  • If you have a brain, you’re biased – recognising your brain’s short cuts (biases) is the first step.
  • This gives you your unique ‘lens’ – common sense isn’t that common we all have different short cuts based on how we’ve trained our brains.
  • We have a unique ability to manage these biases. Mental short-cuts are our brain’s way of maximising its limited resources.  We also have the ability to operate on non-conscious and activate the conscious brain when we detect a difference or error.
  • We work mostly on auto-pilot (non-conscious) accessing the ‘old’ brain that is emotional and instinctual and focuses on threat.
  • We also have a co-pilot (conscious) the ‘newer’ brain that allows us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes (empathy), focus our attention and identify and manage our response or change our perception of stressors.
  • Our co-pilot acts as a brake for the brain – it allows us to respond rather than react and to regulate our responses.
  • The auto-pilot/co-pilot dynamic is what gives us our self-awareness and self-management capability.

So, what can I do?

  • Acknowledge that we all have our own ‘lens’ through which we view the world – and everyone is different
  • Knowing your own ‘lens’ means that you are more self-aware and helps you to understand and mitigate these biases
  • Reframing and reappraisal is a way of engaging your co-pilot (higher) brain to defuse your auto-pilot response
  • This helps us to become more emotionally intelligent in the moment
  • Labelling (naming) the emotion that you are feeling is an effective way of helping to strengthen self-awareness and self-management
  • Pausing and activating the co-pilot takes effort
  • Choose and practice one mindfulness technique. A good place to start is to focus on deep and calm breathing.

A final word

The ultimate goal is to build the ‘braking’ system of the brain. Stepping back and pausing (activating the co-pilot) does take mental effort.  This is about creating new habits and it changes the wiring of the brain.

Importantly, mindfulness training help to strengthen the braking system in the brain.  Being more aware in the moment of what is occurring helps to prune and grow the neural networks that strengthen your braking system.

It’s a critical step in helping to manage self and influence others through change in a productive way.

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