Habits: Out With The Old And In With The New

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I don’t know about you, but for me, this year seemed to go by in a flash.

As I look back what comes to mind are the everyday routines and interactions in my life. They are as important in the long-term as the more dramatic events in my life. It’s those routine occurrences that are informing my New Year resolutions for 2013.

The difference this year is that I’m looking at the changes I want to make from the perspective of breaking old habits and creating new ones. This year I’m adding my understanding of neuroscience to my usual self-analysis. Habit formation is like acting on automatic pilot. It is so woven into the fabric of our behavior we don’t even stop to think that we’re on automatic pilot. We just keep on doing. Continue reading

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Mindful Awareness: An Opportunity For Choice And Change

Jim, age 32 and recently promoted to his first managerial position, has just finished his first one-on-one meeting with Anita – a long time employee, age 56, and the team leader on an important marketing project.

Walking back to his office, Jim’s thoughts flash back to the meeting with Anita and how badly he responded to some of her questions. Although aware of the way he handled himself, the more attention he gives to his behavior – defensive, condescending and interrupting – the deeper his feelings of regret and guilt. He cannot stop the judgments and self-incrimination. He knows that his behavior represents a trait – that it’s not the first time he’s acted this way.

How can Jim use mindfulness practice to overcome these traits and eliminate the unproductive consequences? Just being aware of his behavior is not mindfulness. Mindful awareness is more than just being aware.

 What is mindfulness and how can we use it to create choice and change? Continue reading

How Neuroscience Can Support the Challenge of Parenting

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So, here’s how it went. After sitting in my car, waiting in the queue for twenty minutes, my nine-year-old grandson enters the car with a big smile on his face, happy to see me. How was school today, I ask? ‘Good,” he says, and then digs into his backpack to retrieve his school issued iPad. On our drive to get ice cream, answers to my questions about his day were mumbled or unanswered. The lure of the iPad was too great a competitor!  I felt frustrated in my desire to create a “quality” moment with Ethan.

I love Ethan very much and I know how much he loves me and thinks of me as being real cool and interesting.  I was okay with the silence. The experience, however, left me thinking about the many challenges of full-time parenting (after all, as a grandfather I have a lot of breathing room). It also got me thinking about the many moments parents have to convert frustration (or any other emotion that may be non-productive) into opportunities to help their children to grow into caring, empathetic, loving, responsible and capable adults.

I thought about Daniel Siegel’s description of mental health and well-being – that mental health is associated with the integration of the body with different regions of the brain and relationships. . And, how could that notion of mental health and neuroscience be applied to parenting and shaping the unfolding growth of children and maximizing their mental health. Continue reading

Unraveling Emotional Triggers

I was talking with a group of managers at a recent seminar I was facilitating, when in the middle of a discussion about applying emotional intelligence and neuroscience to management and coaching, one of the managers asked, How do I communicate with someone who is irrational?”

The question triggered the topic of this post. I asked myself, how would I use neuroscience and emotional intelligence to coach this person and address his question? I assumed by his facial expressions, tone of voice and body language that he was emotionally triggered and that’s my logical starting point.                        

So, first, let’s take a brief look at emotions through the lens of neuroscience. While it’s common to categorize emotions as positive or negative, I prefer to think of emotions as either having positive or negative consequences. Which is not the same thing as saying that we use our emotions to discern that something is positive or negative. A slight semantic difference perhaps, but a significant difference in how it can help us learn more about ourselves, lead to more choices and a more satisfying life.

Since we cannot separate our sense of self from our emotional life, every emotion we experience is a representation of a part of ourselves. There is, however, a tendency to avoid or deny emotions that we have identified as negative. In doing so, we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. In other words, every emotion can have a positive function, because every emotion conveys information about our experience.

Using the language of neuroscience we  can create a new frame of reference to connect brain activity with behavioral change. And unlike the “baggage” that some coaches may feel is too therapeutic or inappropriate for their practice, sharing the language of neuroscience explains the dynamic process that is taking place in the brain.

According to neuroscientist Louis Cozolino, “Emotions are our conscious experiences and interpretations of our bodily states, involving many of the brain’s neural networks. Because our thoughts and emotions are so interconnected, it is difficult to know if they are distinct from one another or really different aspects of the same neural processes.”

For example, the seminar participant I mentioned earlier who held the belief that his colleague was irrational would learn that the annoyance and frustration he was experiencing was related to the activation of his limbic system.  When activated the limbic system diverts “resources” from the part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) involved in logical, rational, evaluative and decision-making activities – resulting in less clarity and the increased possibility of impulsive behavior. Continue reading

Making Changes: Closing the Gap Between Intention and Action



How many times have we said to ourselves, with the deepest intentions, “This part of my behavior has to stop, it’s just not working for me?”

And then we resort back to old behavior – still holding the best of intentions.

Why is it so easy to be our own worst enemy, especially in the arena of making personal change?

What can we do to eliminate the gap between intention and action? What stops us from aligning our beliefs and motivations so that they produce the changes we want to feel and see in our lives?

Resistance to change is powerful. In one study of heart patients, told they would likely die without making lifestyle changes, only one in seven followed the medical recommendations. I’m sure that the six who didn’t change truly want to live.

Change is a decision-making process involving different regions of the brain that become integrated, resulting in behavior and actions. However, too often it’s just a decision to change, not the actual behavioral change we want.

When we want to make a change in our lives, it usually starts with an intention that can be either an articulated expression of some desire or a privately held thought. For example, I might say that I want to lose weight or, think that I want to work on changing the nature of my relationship with a colleague at work..but the weight stays on and the relationship doesn’t change. What stops me?

In other words, there’s a gap between intention and action. Continue reading