Our Brain: Tool and ResultApr 27, 2022
The beauty of our brain is the way it operates. It is both the tool with which we build and develop it, and the result of building it.
Through our common thoughts, feelings, movements, challenges we allow ourselves to take, problems we solve, ways to react, as well as chosen ways to respond to what happens to us, we impact directly the way we employ our brain.
Every THOUGHT, FEELING or ACT of ours will enforce in our brain the function of certain areas or parts of it. When this happens, in that part of our brain more and more neural connections will be formed.
As a result, with every new experience (which usually will involve a mix of thoughts, feelings and actions even these latter are of reaction type) more connections between neurons - called synapses - are born. The more new connections are formed in a particular brain area, the more they will enable the brain functions in that specific area. Like the foundation of a house, the stronger connections lead to increased functions supported by that specific brain area, which, if repeated, will strengthen even more the respective neural pathways.
Therefore, even though such neural connections are facilitated by chemical and physical reactions in our brain, they are very much ignited, forged, nurtured and developed by us when we repeatedly THINK, FEEL or DO (act) in a certain manner.
You need to be aware that building a new habit means the need for you to grow new neural connections in your brain areas supporting all components of this new habit, starting from scratch. And be aware that when formed, the new connections are literally electrical flows enabled by molecular channels of one or several molecules breadth. Read again!
It is PRACTICE and CONSISTENCY that transforms a narrow neural pathway into a wide highway supporting that automatic response we call second nature.
In a quest for minimising the resources employed, our brain will energetically sustain only those synapses which are used the most often. Therefore, unless new neural paths (created by us employing a new type of thinking, a new feeling or a new action) are strengthen by us through repeated practice of that very thought, feeling or action to allow for growth of the neural pathways in the area of our brain supporting our new habit, in our brain will happen something called pruning: the “death” or disconnection of the weak and unused neural paths.
It is our brain’s way to take care of our limited energetic resources and to preserve what it “sees” used very often. In other words, every time we think, feel or act in a certain manner our brain will record that way as paramount for our physical and emotional survival, and will do everything to help us “survive” on our own terms. Including cutting the new neural links of good habits, if we - by falling back into old unhealthy habits - are signalling our brain that the weak neural paths supporting the new habit “are not necessary”.
The good thing is that our brain does it irrespective of whether a certain way of thinking, feeling or acting is new or old. Some mental muscles - read neural pathways - will be strengthened on the part enforced by us with practice and consistency, and others will dry off.
And knowing this detail makes a lot of difference. Because we can CHOOSE now with the intention to practice something new instead of falling into an old pattern. And this is the only way in which we can transform ourselves, we can grow new habits, and together with that we will also rewire and transform the connections in our brain, as well as the density of grey matter in various areas of our brain.
You can see here a little video showing the creation of neural pathways and the evolution in time of these new connections. Seeing this made a whole lot of difference to me.
I realised I can be in control of my own mind only by paying attention to all small choices I make over the day.
When reading the word CHOOSE above, I bet you thought about major, life and death choices or decisions which need immediate enforcement. Reality is not like that: it is about the little choices we make such as: shall I eat an apple or a doughnut, shall I walk or shall I take the bus, shall I respond with calm or shall I let everyone know how upset I am, shall I say the truth or shall I keep quiet … you got the idea.
Every of these small choices reinforce a mix of thoughts, feelings and actions, which will activate again and strengthen certain neural pathways, which in turn will allow similar apperns of thoughts, feelings and actions being possible in an automatic manner and will make other types of thoughts, feelings and actions hard to be physically and emotionally supported by us, if at all.
I will exemplify for you what I want to say about . This is just one example, but a similar logic stands behind any of your choices you believe you take rationally, when in fact, it is the strength of your current neural pathways determining the future thoughts, feelings and actions with which you react to any situation.
Let’s say, you WANT to introduce riding the bike as a new habit. You already know it, and became quite proficient in it. You also know you enjoy it a lot, and regret you do not have more free time to allow you to grow this habit. You have no idea what retains you from growing something that is working well for you. And feel you do not have enough willpower to follow the schedule of bike practice you build for yourself at the end of each week. And because there are already 2 months gone without any clear step forward, you give up and consider you are weak and you cannot compare at all with others who can do it.
So, do you see what holds you back?
Let’s dismantle this case a bit.
You start every week with a schedule in mind but then it is you that allows that schedule to fall apart. And why?
What does your reality look like?
You work in an environment which cultivates doing overtime and rewards achievement. And you want to be seen as part of that group and cannot do anything but give in to the practice of other colleagues, and say yes to working overtime. Afterall, it is good additional money, and you need it badly since you recently bought your first apartment and have a loan to repay.
You grew up in a family where parents always told you that life is hard and therefore you will have to be the best in what you do to make sure you will achieve success. Therefore, you do not like shallow work at all, and you will always use more time than your colleagues to thoroughly check your work before delivering it, even if that means to do it in your own time.
You cannot say no to your manager when he asks you to prepare another analysis or report by “tomorrow”. Afterall, you know very few people have your expertise in the company, in fact he already told you how much he appreciates your contribution and sees so much potential in you. Your manager also proposed you to access a management position if you “keep up the good work”.
What does your brain read?
You want to be part of this group (desire).
They will not accept you if you choose to act differently (conviction).
You need to say YES to something you do not like, for others to like you (conviction / assumption).
It is bad to say NO to your manager. (conviction / assumption).
You need to make sure you are the best. (need)
You can do anything in your job, because you know so many things. (conviction)
If you reject work, people will believe you do not know. You are the best, you cannot admit you cannot do it because of time constraints.(conviction)
Pleasure to belong.
Joy for the future payment.
Fear of being rejected if not conforming.
Fear about my financial future.
Fear about failing.
Fear of being seen incapable.
Frustration for needing to say yes against your will and do overtime.
Regret for not going out enough with my bike
Dissapointment for being so weak.
Anxiety or restriction for having to repay the loan and being constrained to do more work than you would otherwise do.
Anticipation with expectation of a future career move.
Fear of potentially loosing this opportunity.
Feeling good to know I am THE expert. Feeling good for others needing me.
Frustration for not being able to follow my dream (going out in bike)
Give in to what you are requested without enforcing your need.
Give-up repeatedly the promise to yourself
Denying your need for relaxation or for better health.
Doing overtime at work
Looking up to your manager for his opinion on you or your results
Checking continuously with your colleagues to make sure you are one of the tribe
Increasing your own anxiety level every time you think about having to pay back the 20 year loan.
Rechecking things checked once, just to make sure everything is OK.
Take your bike only on the weekend and have just a 30 minute tour because you still need to finalise checking your report for Monday.
Remember at the end of the week about your bike and plan again for next week.
It is obvious that most of your thoughts, feelings and actions are focused towards something more vital: your safety as part of organisation and society, and your validation as a worthwhile contributor. Therefore, your automatic response is to protect yourself, to make sure your safety is ensured and you are seen as a valuable contributor in your environment.
A majority of your emotions have a negative fragrance to make you aware that safety is the most important to you and that you need to pay attention to your own safety. You also have a clear and strict model on how this safety can be maintained (work hard, etc)
Therefore, any time you are confronted with taking a new road, that is felt as being totally unsafe, and for emotional comfort you will act in the way your brain knows will bring you safety. And definitely it will not be towards you relaxing and making space for your new habit, but exactly the opposite. That happens because you already have developed very strong neural pathways supporting THAT way of response: it is easy to think, feel and act as listed above, it is YOUR NATURE.
It is on you now to see what else might be possible and test it. That will be scary and will feel scary (your safety is in danger) because your brain is not yet equipped for another type of response, for example: to say NO to my boss, or to see that it is on me to accept I need to cut this free time for myself, or to not let myself involved in things against my will, etc, etc, etc.
And because it feels scary, it is difficult to be done alone. Not impossible, but difficult.
That is why for the people who know they want a transformation, a coach is the best partner in this process because it will guide and catalise your actions in such a manner to still be possible for you, and for you to still feel safe enough to go up to the end.
A coach will help you see what is in your MIX of THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, and ACTIONS, and will help you demystify the belief (THOUGHT) you hold about why this MIX is useful to you. A coach will also empower you to take decisive action and break the fear of the unknown in acting differently. Last but not least, will keep you accountable for how you are going to manage your MIX and what you let as being part of the final MIX.
Time and reality will show you that in front of new challenges, unless you already have a trained neural super-highway to deal positively or in a healthy way with that challenge, you most likely will fall into the old MIX about which you already know is unproductive, unhealthy and unuseful, but feel safe to you.
Most of my coaching clients are not aware of what is in their MIX. What they become relatively fast aware of prior to starting the coaching program with me, is the range of negative emotions that fire all kinds of bells of alarm, throwing them into stress, unrest, judgement, avoidance, controlling, hyper sensitivity, etc.
The ease to exit the negative alerts our emotions give us, and the ease with which we will be able to refocus towards what is still possible to us, depends a lot on the current level of mental resilience.
All my clients have already realised prior to starting the coaching program that they would have been better off with a different pattern of response to the challenge they have now: one to invite or allow for more calm and clarity, creativity or empathy. At this moment, it is difficult for them to manifest it, though. Because their brain is not wired at all or wired enough to support this new response, YET.
The good news is that with the right awareness and some accessible practice, everyone can train their brain muscle to work differently when challenges pop up.And this training is also part of the coaching agenda for anyone who decides to be coached by me.
- What are the new habits you would like to install in your operating system?
- What are the old habits you would like to get rid of?
If you have your response, let’s explore how to make this shift in a free discovery call.
For more posts on topics such as the management mindset, positive intelligence, and thriving for success, I also invite you to be part of Growth Mindset for Managers, my free community on FB.
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