May 30, 2009

Change is hard

I have been reading some theoretical work that links the brain (the physical organ) with the mind (the human consciousness that thinks, feels, acts and perceives) -- the very exciting work being done in neuroscience that tells us how people learn and change.

The reason we all resist change, even when we KNOW that the change is in our best interests, is that our brains work that way.

Our working memory -- the place where our perceptions and ideas can be compared to other information -- takes a lot of energy to do its task. When we meet something new (like we do when we need to adapt or change), this is where the information should go to be elaborated but sometimes there is just too much stuff already taking up its small space.

So instead of comparing, contasting the new thing with a repetoire of other information in our system and elaborate how to put it into action, we push it down into the basal ganglia area where there is more room and less energy required to run things. The problem is that this area of the brain is wired for routine, familiar activities that you can do without much conscious thought and the new thing gets put aside for our tried and true usual way of operating.

Another reason change is hard is that our brains are wired to read any difference between what is expected and what is actually happening to be an "error". These "errors" (anything new) produce intense bursts of neural firing that sets off our fear circuitry. In this way, any time we try to change a routine behavior, our brain sends out a strong message that "something is not right" and we feel discomfort that stems from fear. In this state, we do not do our best higher thinking but rather tend to react more emotionally and impulsively.

So, what can we do to make change happen?

Focusing attention on the improved result over a sustained period of time. Our working memory can only deal with small bites of learning, digesting it over time and by focusing attention, over and over new neuron circuity can be stabilized and developed.

The fancy word is: "self-directed neuroplasticity".

Apparently, the brain wants us to: focus on solutions, come up with our own answers and keep focused on our insights until new circuits are formed.

Sounds like coaching to me!

a domani,