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Transform Your Overloaded, Underperforming Brain into an Efficient, Overachieving Machine (Part 2)

In my last post, we touched on some highlights about what neuroscience has taught us about learning, patterns and their impact on thought.  Today, we’re going look at how simple thought connects to brain overload, how overload creates an environment of sub-par performance and some strategies you can implement today to transform your brain into an efficient, overachieving machine.

According to the research of both neuroscientists and cognitive behavior therapists, approximately 95% of emotions are controlled by thoughts.  Do I hear a “Wow”?  As a coach,  I see this as a bay window of opportunity to improve performance.  What if you were able to choose your thoughts so that you didn’t get angry or stressed?  What if you were able to model and teach this to your friends, co-workers, or children.  How would your world change?  Choosing your thoughts is simply another brain habit which is possible using focus, attention, and practice.

We talked in the last post about your brain being a pattern-making device.  One of the things it is wired to do is to alert you to things that don’t fall in the pattern.  In other words, when something is out of the ordinary, your brain triggers a fear response.  What’s interesting is that the event can be as non-life-threatening as trying to change a bad habit or a truck coming at you head on, your brain triggers a fear response, albeit to different degrees.

The reason that this is important is that anger and fear cause the electrical equivalent of a thunderstorm to occur in your brain.  The neurons are all firing, and coherent thought goes right out the window.  The body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and the brain diverts its energy away from its creative centers.  This response worked well for humankind because the danger response saved lives.  The challenge in civilized society is that the danger response triggers when the life isn’t in danger, and without an intercept, one will react from instinct.

Think about the last time you were angry about something.  Have you ever had that useful “I should have said [fill in the blank]” insight after you had a moment to calm down?  That’s anger creating an environment of under-performance.

Let’s look at the lower level fear response, because that is more insidious and I have every reason to believe that you know what to do about the truck. That fear manifests as the feeling of resistance that you get when there’s something that’s changing.  Take a fast food eater.  At this point, is there anyone out there who thinks that a diet of fast food is a healthy choice?  Very few, yes, and still, the western world has an obesity epidemic.  How can this be, when we mostly know better?  It is because the change in routine triggers a resistance that overpowers rational thought.

What do you think this means in business?  Could it mean that process and policy decisions may not be made as objectively by the people impacted because of an unconscious resistance to change?

What might it mean in a relationship?

Having the ability to “check that thought at the door” before you have an emotional response is the truest definition of self-awareness that there is.  In fact, it is one of the traits of great leadership and also Emotional Intelligence.
Here is the bottom line:

  • What you think impacts how you feel.
  • Both what you think and how you feel determines how you behave and/or what you do.
  • Your actions determine your results.

In the simplest sense, thinking is the root of results, therefore improving thinking improves results.  This is the foundation for brain-based coaching,
Brain-based coaching is the process for applying the latest discoveries of neuroscience improve both the way our clients think and the results they get.  What we do, in our partnership with our clients is examine how you think and whether those thoughts and processes are moving toward or away from your goals.
Here is are two strategies to thwart an emotional hijacking. Both require that you acknowledge “something’s up”.  Awareness is the first step. FYI-, you have about 90 seconds to intervene before your body releases its anger or fear chemicals.

Stop-Think-Choose Strategy

This one is pretty straightforward.  When you notice defensiveness, the beginnings of anger, shallow breathing, and/or resistance tell yourself to stop.  Take a deep breath.  This will bring you back to center and also slow down your physiological response.   Think – ask yourself, “What am I thinking?  Does this thought serve me or not?”  Think about what the problem really is.  What are some alternative ways to look at the situation?  What are the plausible responses?  Choose your response.

Clock Strategy

I use this one for when there isn’t much hope of my not getting angry.  I look at my watch and my calendar, if it is available.  I designate a finite amount of time, usually 15 minutes,  to be angry and put it on the schedule.  What I say to myself is, “I don’t have time to be angry about this now, I’ll be mad at [whatever time I've designated].”  Should my mind try to come back to the subject to stew, I repeat myself, out loud if I am alone, and then refocus my energy on something productive.  At the allotted time, I allow myself to get angry.  Usually, by then I am over it, but on occasion, I will indulge.

In the next installment, we’re going to discuss why these discoveries about brain function might be important to you as a leader, business owner, executive, manager or professional.

Until then, peace and prosperity,


p.s. – What do you think?  Engage in the conversation below.

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