Dan Beverly

In the previous articles (Part 1, Part 2), we looked at how different our brains are from each other; and concluded how important it is to allow people to make connections for themselves.

In this third part, we’ll look at the final 3 insights that together describe just how driven we are by our brain’s hardwiring; and ways in which we can update and even override that hardwiring.

Insight #4: The brain hardwires everything it can

The brain hardwires everything it can. It has to. We have so much information to process, and our working memories are so limited, that the brain takes any repetitive or otherwise important thought or activity and “hard codes” it into our more capacious subcortex (the part that holds long-term memories and processes).

It’s also an efficiency thing. Far less energy is required to think using well-established/deeply-ingrained hardwired patterns than to think anew. Try it now for yourself. Answer these sums out-loud: 1+1=? 2+2=? 10+10=? 156+75=? Did you notice, if just for a split second, mentally backing-off the last question? That feeling is a threat response: because (new) thinking takes resources.

To come at this from a different angle: an interesting study showed that elite sportspeople use significantly less of their brain whilst playing their sport than non-elite sportspeople, when intuitively you might think it would be the other way around. Which goes to show that the brain’s preference is for hardwiring. And also that our hardwiring is more dependable and more able to deliver results than our conscious brain.

So two things come to (my!) mind:

  1. Given how dependable and performant our habits are, wouldn’t it be great to ingrain peak performance as a habit?
  2. Given how deeply hardwired we are all, can we really break-out of the autopilot?

Unsurprisingly, lasting change takes effort and a whole new approach. And the way to do that is not just to counter the brain’s preference for hardwiring, but to leverage it.

. . .

Insight #5: It’s practically impossible to deconstruct our hardwiring

Our connections define how we see and approach the world: our perceptions; the choices we make; the results we create for ourselves. So to transform performance at work and in business, we need to modify our connections.

But here’s the bad news: it’s practically impossible to deconstruct our hardwiring.

Meaning: it’s impossible to “unwire” those connections, primarily because they’re just too deeply embedded. But also because any attempt to understand the source of the habit (as is often our first instinct) just serves to deepen the very circuitry we’re trying to undo. It’s why problem thinking generally just finds more problems.

So deep analysis isn’t helpful. A basic awareness is a necessary first step. But it’s then what we do after that initial awareness that’s crucial. The key is not to try to “change” the habit. Better to leave it where it is, and create a whole new habit, backed-up by attention.

Insight #6: It’s really easy to create new wiring

Everything we think and do influences the layout and connections of our brain, continually fine-tuning its pathways. The upside of this finding is that we have extraordinary capacity for new connections. The next question then is: how do we hardwire new behaviours?

Bridging the gap between a new thought and an ingrained habit

Science is showing it’s not that hard to bridge the gap between a new thought (a map held in working memory) and a habit (a map hardwired into the deeper parts of our brain). Our brain is an attention economy. If we want to hardwire a new behaviour, we just need to give it enough attention, over enough time. But to embed the habit, the nature of that attention is important.

To hardwire a new behaviour, we need to give it the type of attention that makes links to different parts of the brain – so that the web thickens and spreads out. So instead of just thinking about an idea, we need to write it down, research it, talk about it, take action. It’s these types of activities that give our new map depth and density; that move a thought or an insight to an ingrained habit. In short: if we put enough energy into the idea, it will become part of our wiring, part of us.

And a final word about the old habit: won’t it conflict with the new? Not so long as we don’t give it attention.

. . .

The brain at work

What useful learning can we take from these insights?

  • New thinking requires the right environment. Create it: for self, teams, customers and clients.
  • To improve performance in ourselves and others: focus only on new thinking.
  • To “change” a behaviour: leave it where it is and create whole new habits.
  • It’s an attention economy. To ingrain new behaviours, give them the focus.

Insights for work and business: time for a new approach

  • Insight #1: The brain is a non-stop analogue processor.
  • Insight #2: No two brains are wired the same.
  • Insight #3: The brain sees the world according to its own wiring.
  • Insight #4: The brain hardwires everything it can.
  • Insight #5: It’s impossible to deconstruct old wiring.
  • Insight #6: It’s easy to create new wiring.

What might we take-away from these insights?

Our “standard” approaches to work and business, whether collaborating, leading, influencing or engaging, involve largely ineffective techniques: giving advice, “solving” problems, second-guessing thinking, dictating the thinking.

To maximise our effectiveness, we need to abandon those approaches and instead become masters of helping others think for themselves. And the best way to do that is to help people make their own connections.

Not only does this brain-based approach save a tremendous amount of time and energy for everyone involved – it’s the surest way to outperform current performance.

References

  • Charles Duhigg, The power of Habit (London: Random House, 2013).
  • John J. Ratey, A User’s Guide to the Brain (New York: Pantheon, 2001).
  • David Rock, Quiet Leadership (New York: HarperCollins, 2006).
Dan Beverly

Dan Beverly is a leadership and performance coach helping high-calibre, high-performing professional women embrace the pivotal career moments.

To work with Dan, go online to book your complimentary “Session Zero” – and start capitalising on your pivotal career moment, today.

http://danbeverly.com/session-zero