How Our Words Shape the Experience of Others

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My parents, like most trying to communicate with a distracted child, would sometimes say,  “Well… it’s in one ear and out the other.”  Little did they know that their message literally  “went in one ear” and stayed there, encoding information throughout my brain’s neural circuitry and body.

Interesting things happen when we articulate our thoughts and the words leave our lips and enter the ears of the listener. The actual words and the way they’re spoken – inflection, tonality, volume, etc. – leave a lasting impression on the brains of those with whom we speak. Our words shape the experiences of others.

Looking at the power of words to shape experience from a neuroscience perspective leads us into very interesting territory.

Just as all of life is composed of matter and molecules, so are the words that travel from our lips to the ears of the listener. Each word we speak has its own molecular structure and vibratory field. (For example, the words ‘trust me’ vibrate at a different frequency than the words ‘you should’) Continue reading

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Are You Ignoring or Using the Power of Your Values?

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Autonomy. Dependability. Honesty. Freedom. Integrity. Privacy. Respect. Fun. Creativity. Affiliation. Service. Collaboration.

All of the above are values – these and many more can shape what we do in life and how we do it.

We all have values. They represent what is important to us. Values are powerful because they supply our work (and everything else in our lives) with meaning.  They govern our behavior and guide our choices. Values are powerful motivators.  They determine the decisions you make in your life. You’re either moving toward things that satisfy your values, or moving away from things that contradict your values.

Values are contextually driven.  For example, I might value autonomy in my choice of job but intimacy when it comes to forming non-work relationships. While context changes some values –  some we often call “core,” may be important to us in every situation, like trust, authenticity and respect. Continue reading

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

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