How to Catch Your Brain?

neuroplasticity, neuroscience, conscious decision, unconscious, leadership, Yan Maschke, Executive Coach, Cleveland Ohio

Much resonance was expressed towards my last post "What You Don't See" about the unconscious and subconscious, which to an amazing extent impacts our thoughts, emotions, decision making, human interactions, leadership, and quality of life.

One reader emailed me that someone he deeply cared about carried an identify that she is not good enough and she is unwanted. No matter what the external circumstance - positive or negative, her realm of reality remained the same - she is not good enough and she is unwanted.  

That identity is unconscious to her and is a decision pre-made by her brain without her awareness. THAT ran her life

Such assumptions, beliefs, and identities are stored in the part of the brain that Dr. Steve Peters (psychiatrist, writer) refers to as the “Computer Brain” on his book “The Chimp Paradox” - a book that made neuroscience easy to understand. 

In this book, Dr. Steve Peters simplified the brain to 3 parts as it's relevant to our behaviors and decision making.

1. The “Human Brain”. This is the rational and cognitive part of our brain, also referred to as the executive brain. This is the newest development of the human brain, it’s part of the prefrontal cortex around the forehead area.

2. The “Chimp Brain”. This is our emotional brain and it resides in the limbic part of our brain. One key component here is the amygdala (you may have heard of the term "Amygdala Hijack" from Daniel Goleman's articulation of Emotional Intelligence), which is responsible for our “fight or flight or freeze” reaction - with an ancient intent to keep us safe. It is more powerful than the "Human Brain", and it runs at 5 times the speed of the “Human Brain”. This part of the brain goes back much further in the development history of our brain.

3. “Computer Brain”. This is the storage system fed by both the “Human Brain” and the “Chimp Brain”, where values/beliefs/ assumptions/identities are stored, based on our past experiences and judgments. It is referenced by the other 2 brains constantly and it runs at 20 times the speed of the “Human Brain”. 

Source: The Chimp Paradox, Steve Peters

Source: The Chimp Paradox, Steve Peters

Sometimes one experience or one decision from a very long time ago can be deeply stored in the “Computer Brain”, and the emotions it triggers is played out in our emotional brain. Between the two, they are unbelievably powerful and they can control us

In the case of the person referenced by the reader of my last post, she found out that her father wanted her mother to terminate the pregnancy while she (as a baby) was carried. Upon learning that piece of information, she made a decision that she is not good enough and she is unwanted. Visceral emotional reactions in the“Chimp Brain” accompanied her assumptions and beliefs in the "Computer Brain" , reinforcing the power of her automatic reaction.

It takes intentional, conscious, and repeated effort from the executive brain to pause, reflect, and examine in order to comprehend what’s happening unconsciously - between the “Computer Brain” and the “Chimp Brain”. 

The executive brain is the slowest reacting part of the brain, hence the critical step is to pause so we can actively recruit the executive brain. Give it time to step in. From that space, we open up other possibilities of responses vs. simply reacting automatically

Actually, pause and silent thinking are still not enough in many cases. It helps to ask out loud or ask on paper “What am I thinking and feeling? To what extent is this thinking and feeling based on facts?  If it’s based on assumptions, biases, and beliefs, how reliable are they in this case? In what way is this thinking in line with or trespassing my core values? What are some other ways of thinking and feeling? What options do I have? What are the pros and cons of these options?”

Once our "Human Brain" gets its chance to perform its executive function - logical thinking and analysis, then we can make decisions intentionally instead of automatically reacting unconsciously. 

The process of catching our brain can be likened to a "P.I.E.R." we visit for reflection: Pause, Inquire, Examine, Respond. - Yan Maschke

With so much emphasis on cognitive and rational thinking (you may call it the "head"), you may ask, "What about my gut? what about my heart?" 

By checking in with our core values and our emotions as part of the intentional cognitive process in our head, we honor our heart and gut at the same time. As a process, our brain receives input from our heart and gut through the vagus nerve - the largest nerve bundle in our body, then tries to interprets the message from our heart and gut. As a result, we actually make better sense of our heart and gut by bringing it from the background to the foreground of our awareness.

Source: Pfizer 2017 Annual Review

Source: Pfizer 2017 Annual Review

As powerful as the "Computer Brain" is, don't forget it is also continuously fed by both the "Human Brain" and the "Chimp Brain". New experiences and new decisions update our storage system and our brain constantly evolves and grows in response to learning and experiences. That is called Neuroplasticity

What you think, feel and do today influences that of your future. 

When you can catch your brain, you can gain more control of your destiny - how you live, lead, and impact.

What’s your experience? What best practice can you share?


Resources: The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters

Growth Opportunities: Contact me to explore how conscious leadership enables you to make your highest contributions. Invite me to speak with your team about conscious team interactions and decision making.