To Change Behavior, Change Your Focus

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Recently, one of our clients, the president and CEO of a mid-size company, sent me an email after participating in a development group with his senior leadership team that was focused  on collaboration and emotional intelligence.

His message went something like this, “ A situation came up at work where I had the opportunity to put into practice some of the information we discussed and realized how hard it is to change and break old habits.  He also asked a question that many clients ask –  how do I remember to remember these things that we’re talking about?”   Essentially the question becomes –  how do I become more  conscious of my intentions and my behavior?

It got me thinking about how easy it is to become captive to our internal narratives and reflexive in our behavior.  The question compelled  me to go deeper into what it is I do as a  coach to support  people to break through habituated, unproductive behavior

Two  important influences on behavior are the areas of language and attention – how we describe our experience is indicative of the focus of our attention.  As a coach one of my goals is to share my thoughts in a language that help clients focus their attention and makes connections with new ways of thinking that align with their desired outcomes.

Being able to hold on to new information and learning requires attention and consistency. Having a “container” for new information is essential. One of the most promising “tools” for increasing our capacity to strengthen habits of attention and consistency is mindfulness.  Insights from neuroscience also have the potential to expand the container, while at the same time, bridging psychological explanations for human behavior with a scientific basis. According to Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, “Strengthening attention helps you let go of stressful circumstances because the brain economizes our circuits. Being compelled to pay attention to your emotions is the opposite of being able to choose where you put your attention.”  Continue reading

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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

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

Minding The Mind

Do you think the brain and mind is the same thing? Does it even matter to talk about distinctions between the two?

It’s about how we can go about making changes in our lives, especially if we want to have more control over our internal narrative, our self-talk and ultimately, behavior.

Late 20th century brain researchers viewed the brain in strict, functional, neuronal terms as an information processor that operated without reference to content and context.  The mind, when viewed from this Newtonian mechanistic model of the world, is determined by brain activity.

Things changed in the 21st century.

Technological advances, interdisciplinary discoveries and a systemic approach led the way to a new perspective about the mind and brain. Key among these discoveries is the notion that the brain is capable of neuroplasticity – capable of changing as a result of experience.  From the moment we’re born until we die the brain is capable of creating new neural circuitry.

Another major contribution to the shift in thinking about brain and mind is the idea that the brain is a social organ. It connects with other brains via neural circuitry in our body that is hard-wired to take in other’s signals. In other words, “we think outside our own individual brain.”

As neuroscientist Leslie Brothers (2001) describes it, “our neural machinery” “doesn’t produce mind; it enables participation.”   While the brain is structurally 100 billion neurons, each connecting to 5,000 to 10,000 others and their complex patterns of firing – the mind as Daniel Siegel’s describes is the “flow of energy and information.”  Continue reading