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What Got You Here May Not Get You There

Photo By Dani

When met with what seems to be a familiar situation, humans behave based on habit.  The brain is designed to operate based on patterns and filters, so it’s very quick to assess “Woah! something’s going on here” vs. “Oh, OK”  and respond accordingly.

By the way, it’s also the same mechanism that makes Bob’s name easier to remember than Atmajyoti’s, if you’re not Indian.

There is a concept in Psychology called the Familiarity Heuristic.  A heuristic a “rule of thumb” in which current behavior is judged to be correct based on how similar it is to past behavior and its outcomes.  In neuroscience, this shows up a little differently in that the Psychological definition assumes conscious judgment as opposed to nonconscious judgment.

The challenge in the workplace (and life) is that our brains automatically tend to respond to circumstances that look familiar in the way we’ve been conditioned.  Just because a situation appears to be the same, doesn’t mean that it is.  Especially in management or business ownership, expectations of our behavior may be different because of our roles.  So, a response that worked well when we were an individual contributor may not work in a leadership setting.  The kicker is that we won’t automatically recognize this.  Ouch!

That’s partly why it’s challenging to change behavior.  There has to be an awareness that something needs to change, which is difficult during automatic processing.  And, there are some clues.

The biggest clues come in recurring situations that aren’t resolving the way we’d like.  When we have a problem come up over and over again, there’s something that we’re not learning.

Another helpful thing is to have a coach or mentor available to provide an outside perspective.  These types of people can help one identify blind spots and be a sounding board for solutions.

However awareness occurs, the next steps are the tenets of brain-based coaching – focus and attention.  See as soon as we decide we’re going to be aware of the situation, we almost always will take note when it happens.  That triggers the “Whoa! Something’s going here” response, and fMRI stufies show that different parts of the brain light up when there is something familiar versus something that’s not.  This gives us the opportunity of choice.

When we choose a different action, focus on it and reflect upon it later, we create physical connections in the brain.  As we do this more often, we strengthen those connections, and VOILA! we have created behavioral change.  This is how we upgrade behavior in a brain friendly way.

Be Your Best You Today,

Carolann Jacobs

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