Neuroscience and Change

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The MJA Group Neuroscience to promote ChangeWhy is change so difficult and why do so many people fail at making a change? We know that no only is change hard personally but also in organizations. Many times change is a more than a mere hurdle it is a roadblock.

Neuroscience is helping us to understand this phenomenon. Neuroscience confirms that, in fact, change is difficult, even painful, and it takes effort. This is not just hyperbole it is fact.

There are a number of reasons for this.   One reason that change is hard is that long-term memory shapes the way that we approach new ideas or new ways of doing things; these memories can either enhance or constrain the change process. For change to occur the previous context has to be removed and a new one introduced.

Sounds simple, but there are various parts of the brain that have an important function in removing past context and opening the way for new ones. Central to this is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which in conjunction with other parts of the brain, play an important role in mitigating change. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for higher order thinking. This part of the brain consumes a lot of energy. Parts of the PFC responsible for change; include short and long term memory as well as the medial frontal cortex (vmPFC) which assesses the pros and cons of the change.

Working memory (where the brain compares what is known to what is being introduced) also resides in the PFC and is then transferred to the basal ganglia (part of the limbic system) where habits and routines are stored. The limbic system takes less energy and this is one reason that we tend to do things out of habit instead of taxing the PFC, which can become overwhelmed when it is forced to focus on a new behavior, and thus defaults to other parts of the brain.

Further, the brain is wired to detect differences between what is expected and what actually occurs. When something unexpected occurs, parts of the brain associated with the amygdala’s fear circuitry are activated and a fear response is triggered. That fear response results in energy being taken away from the PFC. This may sound technical but basically when there is a difference in what the brain expects to happen based on past experience and what actually happens a fear response is signaled that interferes with the more rational thinking area of the brain, the PFC. Once a fear response is activated, the ability to change is stopped in its tracks.

By understanding the neuroscience behind the how the brain processes change, coaches and leaders can work to overcome these obstacles in order to effect change. One way to do this is through regulating emotion, and the fear response that is triggered when change is on the horizon. Assessing one’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in regard to the change can help in doing this. A coach can help a person walk through the implications of change by asking questions in regard to the change, how the individual feels about the change, for example. Many times resistance to change is due to lack of emotional information.

Also, important to change is allowing a person to reflect on the change and fostering self-control and insights.   Insights have been shown to have a reward like effect on the prefrontal cortex. Reactivating the PFC will help in facilitating change. One way to accomplish this is by inspiring creative thinking, which activates the PFC. Another way to accomplish this is to focus the person’s attention to the desired results by asking questions, and testing assumptions that focus on the new behaviors in order to inspire insights.

Once a person has come to accept change, the work is not over. As mentioned above, neuroscience informs us that habits and routines are stored in the basal ganglia which informs a person’s behavior, and therefore the change has to be reinforced to become a habit. This is ongoing process that can be further reinforced through the use of a coach who can help with feedback, tapping into positive emotions, and strengthening the commitment to the new way of thinking or doing.

Listening

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Listening, it sounds so simple. It is something we do naturally every day. But do we really listen to what someone is saying. In actuality, listening is a talent; it is a skill that needs to be developed to be truly effective. Think about it; when was the last time that you really felt as if you were listened to, that the receiver of the information really heard what you said? If you are like most, your day-to-day interactions with others tend to provide surface listening. This means that the person you are speaking with is probably thinking how what you said impacts him or her. For example, has someone ever inquired about your day, you proceed to tell the person and next thing you know you are hearing about how that person’s day unfolded? In today’s society listening is further distracted by technology, the bing of an email coming into an inbox, or the ring of a cellphone. You are talking to someone and that person is typing a text reply, checking Facebook, or looking at a news item online. Imagine if the person you were speaking with really listened, gave you her undivided attention, and was focused only on you, what you said, how you said it, and she acknowledged you. There are three levels of listening (Level I, II, and III). They say that most listening happens at Level 1, surface listening described above. These are the conversations we generally have with friends and family. At this level the focus is usually on ourselves and not the person speaking. Think back on conversations you had today, do most seem to fit in this category? Now this is not necessarily bad, except when you really want to be heard. Level II listening is a deeper lever of listening; this is a truly focused listening. At this level the person listening is focused only on the other person, there are no distractions. This is the level of listening that you will experience in a coaching session. It is this skill, combined with the coach’s ability to ask questions that makes coaching successful. The Level III listening is the deepest level of listening, and most people have not been listened to at this level. The listener uses intuition as much as the spoken word. This type of listening has been described to be like hearing radio waves, the radio waves are invisible yet the music is heard; in coaching at level III the coach hears the radio waves. Would you like to really be listened to? This is not something you just have to imagine, you can hire a coach and you will experience what it is like to be listened to on a deeper level, maybe even at Level III.
Listening

Listening, it sounds so simple. It is something we do naturally every day. But do we really listen to what someone is saying. In actuality, listening is a talent; it is a skill that needs to be developed to be truly effective.

Think about it; when was the last time that you really felt as if you were listened to, that the receiver of the information really heard what you said? If you are like most, your day-to-day interactions with others tend to provide surface listening. This means that the person you are speaking with is probably thinking how what you said impacts him or her. For example, has someone ever inquired about your day, you proceed to tell the person and next thing you know you are hearing about how that person’s day unfolded?

In today’s society listening is further distracted by technology, the bing of an email coming into an inbox, or the ring of a cellphone. You are talking to someone and that person is typing a text reply, checking Facebook, or looking at a news item online. Imagine if the person you were speaking with really listened, gave you her undivided attention, and was focused only on you, what you said, how you said it, and she acknowledged you.

There are three levels of listening (Level I, II, and III). They say that most listening happens at Level 1, surface listening described above. These are the conversations we generally have with friends and family. At this level the focus is usually on ourselves and not the person speaking. Think back on conversations you had today, do most seem to fit in this category? Now this is not necessarily bad, except when you really want to be heard.

Level II listening is a deeper lever of listening; this is a truly focused listening. At this level the person listening is focused only on the other person, there are no distractions. This is the level of listening that you will experience in a coaching session. It is this skill, combined with the coach’s ability to ask questions that makes coaching successful.

The Level III listening is the deepest level of listening, and most people have not been listened to at this level. The listener uses intuition as much as the spoken word. This type of listening has been described to be like hearing radio waves, the radio waves are invisible yet the music is heard; in coaching at level III the coach hears the radio waves.

Would you like to really be listened to? This is not something you just have to imagine, you can hire a coach and you will experience what it is like to be listened to on a deeper level, maybe even at Level III.