Archive for Cognition and How the Mind Works

Change can happen faster than we think when you connect an inspiring message with a strong medium and engage the heart.

By minute six of this ten minute TEDXSF video I had tears running down my face.  Both my mind and heart were engaged and I made some decisions about things to do differently both today and in the future.

This video captures the heart and imagination through the words of a child, time lapse photography (by Louie Schwartzberg), and very powerful words spoken by Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast.

May you find 10 minutes in your busy schedule today to watch this video.  May it help you find inspiration, gain a new view of the world, and a sense of gratitude for all we have.

Click here to watch it.

My change?  To view the world a bit differently today.  To seek ways to continue to capture the sense of thoughtfulness and wonder I feel for the world round me.  My on-going action, to revisit this video when I feel the need for a bit of inspiration and help to “stop and smell the roses.”


Is it Change Resistance or Sabotage?

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Image obtained from article on the “top-25-optical-illusions-on-the-web-4”

Interpretation can be everything.  How a situation looks (or feels) depends on many things including our background, experience, and expectations.  Whether a situation is change resistance or sabotage depends on how you see it.

Recently our Organization Change Practitioners group had a very robust dialog about this topic.  The discussion was led by John P. Barbuto, MD.  John graciously agreed to write about this for Ponderings & Insights.  Here’s John’s story.

“This famous “optical illusion” image can be seen in two dramatically different ways: as a white candlestick on a black background, or as two silhouetted faces on a white background. 

It all depends upon where you focus attention.

In like manner, a recent discussion of the topic “sabotage” on LinkedIn, with the context being organizational change management, produced two very different views of actively resistant behavior.  In one view, when an organization wishes to accomplish a change and some people resist it to the extent of trying to actively prevent the change from occurring then this action was seen as an attempt to sabotage the change project.  In another view, the same situation was seen with the focus on the individual – feeling that he/she must have a reason for strongly resisting and perhaps resistance was even an action of corporate patriotism.  In the LinkedIn discussion things became heated.  Some participants even advocated that there is no such thing as sabotage.  People began to attack each other, even though this was a discussion of people who considered themselves experts in bringing about change within organizations.

As human beings we do have differing views.  We may see exactly the same situation, focus on differing aspects of it, and interpret the situation entirely differently.  If those views are additionally linked to very personal and cherished beliefs or values then emotions rise when there is challenge to the cherished view.

In human evolution and neural development emotions came before logic.  This is reflected in neuroanatomy.  The relative locations of emotional centers (in the limbic system) versus “rational thought” centers (in the cortex, particularly frontal cortex) reveal not only that the limbic system developed earlier but also that it has access to incoming information first.  So, while in this stage of evolution we often prefer to think of ourselves as rational beings, neuroanatomy reveals that emotions can hold our rational thought captive.  In the context of organizational change management we do well to remember this basic neuroanatomical lesson.

Where cherished beliefs or values are “on the line” hot emotions may usurp control from cool and analytical thought.  The ability to see a “picture” in its various forms, and consider them, may give way to defense of a particular view.  Things fall apart.  Even professionals can lose their centering and devolve into attack and defense.

So, is there such a thing as sabotage in the context of organizational change projects?  Apparently it depends upon the point of view.  Most certainly, individuals within an organization may seek to resist a proposed change, and even subvert group movement toward its accomplishment.  But, whether you call this “sabotage” or “patriotism” apparently depends upon who you talk to.”

In Conclusion…

One of the most important sentences for me in John’s story was “The ability to see a ‘picture’ in its various forms, and consider them, may give way to defense of a particular view.”  Not all the participants in the dialog were reactionary.  There were a number who did demonstrate this ability and it added to the richness of the discussion.

I believe that the ability to look at a situation from multiple viewpoints is a critical skill.  It should be both fostered in others and utilized regularly within yourself.  Often this requires stopping yourself from reacting immediately, stepping back, and digging deeper into both your thoughts and emotional reactions.  Try to place yourself on the other side of the metaphorical table and think about how the view might look from over there.  I personally find this exercise quite valuable and am in fact working to teach it to my children.  It’s a valuable lifelong skill.

I respectfully request that you not to undervalue those “hot emotions.”  Emotional responses are triggered for some reason.  Seek to understand the reason, not just the reaction.  The typical problem within interactions is not the emotional response, but rather what you say and do without thinking thru the situation.  Your brain and body are contributing to both your emotions and intellect.  Understand both.  Value both.

As noted in the prior article, Is it Resistance…  Maybe Not, it’s important to dig down into the roots of your reactions.  Often times you will find that there are more layers of analysis going on than just what is in your conscious mind or what you initially interpret through your emotional response.  It is critical that you balance the whole of yourself.  Respecting the whole of others too. 

If you can, I highly recommend following the links over to Wikipedia and reading more about how our brain works.  Understanding better how our minds and bodies operate can be useful in a myriad of circumstances.

Can you help? 

When I set up the Wikipedia links, I noticed a number of pages needed updating.  If you know individuals qualified to provide updates to these important pages of literature, please ask them for their assistance.  I’ve prompted John to see if he will participate. 

A Word of Thanks

My thanks to those of you who help Wikipedia in ways both big and little.  I believe it is one of the most important things on the Internet these days.  If each individual who uses it would commit to supporting the content development at least once a year, it would continue to be the amazing resource that it is.  Small efforts by numberous people can have amazingly large impacts.

A Shout Out of THANKS to John P. Barbuto, MD for his contribution to this Pondering & Insights article.  I’m hoping John will continue to provide insights here on how our minds and emotions connect.  I enjoyed his story and hope you did too.

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What's going on in your mind?

I had a very interesting experience with resistance this morning.  It reminded me that we should value resistance.  Yes, value it.

Within the world of change management, organizational change, organizational development, (the list goes on), resistance is often seen as something negative.  Something that you need to manage or overcome.  

However, if you step back from the existence of resistance and seek to discover the root cause, you might uncover some very interesting things.  I did.  

Resistance can be expressed across multiple dimensions.  It is something that you might experience on a mental level – through self-discussions.  It might be something that you feel emotionally – possibly raising your anxiety level.  It might be something expressed at a physical or gut level – perhaps you felt your muscles contract.  Your conscious mind is only a minor fraction of the processing that is going on within our bodies. The reactions you feel or sense are typically based on much more than what you are consciously aware of.

The Backstory

If you’ve been reading my writing for a while you may remember me talking about a great group of people that I met through Linked In. People who I met on-line that I feel have moved from the peer/colleague category to the friend category. I wrote about them in my article, Penguin Leadership: Alone in a Crowd.

The group grew organically, without any intention for it to become what it has: a sounding board, a shoulder to lean on, a group of friends to vent with, and a group to push boundaries of thinking with. We’ve never met in person – our locations range from California to Canada to Belgium. Side Note: at this point, there are six of us in the group (Bill Braun has joined us since the article was written).

The Event

This morning a request came to add another person to our group (one might say clique but that can sound negative). I had a very visceral reaction that said “I’m not sure I like that idea.” I stepped back from my computer for a bit but the feeling still hung on. So I shared my reaction – that I wasn’t sure and needed to think about this.

Given that I’m a fairly open and friendly person, my gut reaction startled me. In part, because it was so strong.  I even made a joke to the group about whether I was experiencing “change resistance.”

I forced myself to step back and analyze why I was feeling the way I was. What I discovered was that my strong reaction came from the value I placed on my interactions with this group. My fear was that adding a new individual would trigger changes in the style of interactions. Hum, time for me to dig a bit deeper.

Digging Down to the Roots

I realized that in many ways, this group has evolved from a peer group to a support + peer group. Many days this past month I would put that support has been predominant.

I believe that our Penguin Club members “get me”. They get my thinking process. They value my opinions. They seek to not just listen but to hear what I am trying to say. I can be candid, open, honest, direct, and fraught with human frailties in a safe and supportive place. How often can you say that? It’s something not to be undervalued.

I have a high level of trust from the group members. Unfortunately today, trust is a fairly rare commodity. But that’s a story for another day.

In the insanity of life that we live in these days, the value of these types of relationships should not be underestimated. They should be treasured. How many friends and colleagues out there can you say this about?

As this group grew organically, we had no defined objectives or governance structures. We simply threw out questions to the group, sought second opinions, and discussed concepts that interested us.  This morning’s experience was a fascinating study (at least to me) in group dynamics. How different the informal evolution can be from the formal structures we often engage in.

During our flurry of emails this morning we are starting to unpack what it is we want and value from this group.  It’s not always the same. 

Have we made a decision about adding to our Penguin Club, no.  Have the emails been flying fast and furious, yes.  I actually glad that we are not making the decision lightly. 

The Potential Impacts

I do believe that if there was a brand new group member, the nature of what we were shared this morning would be different.  I don’t think we would have been as open and honest about thoughts and gut reactions. 

Do I think we should avoid adding someone new to keep the status quo?  Not necessarily.  What I do want to ensure is that we as a group are aware of the potential cost and make an effort to move through the transition in a way that is comfortable for everyone.

I can say that this experience has been an interesting study in Group Dynamics, Social Networking, and Trust.  It’s a microcosm of events that happen at work and in social settings each and every day.

The lessons for me today are twofold:  TRUST yourself and HONOR your feelings of resistance.  You are feeling them for some reason.  Stop and ask yourself about the root causes.  You might just discover something interesting.  I did.  

I gained insight into myself, my wants and desires of the group, and the level of trust I was feeling for the individuals in the group.  I also learned how very important this group of people was to me.  Our interactions and discussion are precious and should be treated as such.  

That was the root of my resistance.  It had absolutely nothing to do about the potential new person and everything to do with my connection to the existing.  It was less about resistance and more about personal value.

In Conclusion…

How might this experience translate into your personal life, your work, your social interactions, or the business environment? 

Do you stop and think “why” when you have a negative reaction?  Do you explore the roots of your feelings and feelings of resistance?  Do you trust your feelings, impressions, and instincts?  How do you honor them?

Rather than just believing that resistance is something to be overcome, make the effort to understand its root cause(s).  Both within yourself and within others.  Honor it; don’t just focus on overcoming it.  Value other individual’s emotional and physical reactions as well as your own.  They are just as big a part of who the person is as the intellectual ones. 

My perception is that we often forget this; that we do not value enough the underlying subconscious processing that our minds and bodies are doing.  We need to remember the whole of ourselves, not just the individual parts.

Each part of yourself should be valued; your thoughts, your emotions, your physical reactions, as well as your spiritual needs.  When you feel resistance, unpack it a bit.  Explore its roots.  You just might find out something about yourself you didn’t expect. 

In the end, you might also find you make a different choice.


Where are you on your Personal Evolution: Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs

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Where are you now? Where do you want to be?

My last post referred to Maslow’s Hierarchy.  For those unfamiliar with it and/or interested in more details, Maslow’s basic needs are as follows:

Physiological Needs

These are biological needs. They consist of needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. They are the strongest needs because if a person were deprived of all needs, the physiological ones would come first in the person’s search for satisfaction.

Safety Needs

When all physiological needs are satisfied and are no longer controlling thoughts and behaviors, the needs for security can become active. Adults have little awareness of their security needs except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting). Children often display the signs of insecurity and the need to be safe.

Needs of Love, Affection and Belongingness

When the needs for safety and for physiological well-being are satisfied, the next class of needs for love, affection and belongingness can emerge. Maslow states that people seek to overcome feelings of loneliness and alienation. This involves both giving and receiving love, affection and the sense of belonging.

Needs for Esteem

When the first three classes of needs are satisfied, the needs for esteem can become dominant. These involve needs for both self-esteem and for the esteem a person gets from others. Humans have a need for a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, and respect from others. When these needs are satisfied, the person feels self-confident and valuable as a person in the world. When these needs are frustrated, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.

Needs for Self-Actualization

When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do.” “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write.” These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness. The person feels on edge, tense, lacking something, in short, restless. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. It is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization.

The hierarchic theory is often represented as a pyramid, with the larger, lower levels representing the lower needs, and the upper point representing the need for self-actualization.  Maslow believes that the only reason that people would not move well in direction of self-actualization is because of hindrances placed in their way by society.  He states that education is one of these hindrances.  He recommends ways education can switch from its usual person-stunting tactics to person-growing approaches.  Maslow states that educators should respond to the potential an individual has for growing into a self-actualizing person of his/her own kind.  Ten points that educators should address are listed:

  1. We should teach people to be authentic, to be aware of their inner selves and to hear their inner-feeling voices.
  2. We should teach people to transcend their cultural conditioning and become world citizens.
  3. We should help people discover their vocation in life, their calling, fate or destiny. This is especially focused on finding the right career and the right mate.
  4. We should teach people that life is precious, that there is joy to be experienced in life, and if people are open to seeing the good and joyous in all kinds of situations, it makes life worth living.
  5. We must accept the person as he or she is and help the person learn their inner nature. From real knowledge of aptitudes and limitations we can know what to build upon, what potentials are really there.
  6. We must see that the person’s basic needs are satisfied. This includes safety, belongingness, and esteem needs.
  7. We should refreshen consciousness, teaching the person to appreciate beauty and the other good things in nature and in living.
  8. We should teach people that controls are good, and complete abandon is bad. It takes control to improve the quality of life in all areas.
  9. We should teach people to transcend the trifling problems and grapple with the serious problems in life. These include the problems of injustice, of pain, suffering, and death.
  10. We must teach people to be good choosers. They must be given practice in making good choices.

Reference:  Psychology – The Search for Understanding by Janet A. Simons, Donald B. Irwin and Beverly A. Drinnien West Publishing Company, New York, 1987

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Me and My Imagination

Me and My Imagination

Today I was thinking about perspectives and viewpoints.  How our past experiences, thoughts, and imagination influence how we see things.  I wondered how often we (the collective we) stop to consider the background, experience, and baggage (yes baggage) that we bring to the (metaphorical) table.  How often do we stop and think about how something might look different from another perspective. 

As I was thinking about this, I started pondering how a tree would look different depending on where you were – the side, above it, or underneath.  It’s the same tree, but it would look very different depending on where you are viewing it from. 

I’d like to ask that you take you on a short mental walk with me.  Can you join me in your imagination?  I’m heading out the door now.  To my right is an evergreen tree.  On the left are some flowers.  Beyond those flowers is another evergreen.  I’d like to sit down now.  Will you join me?  Yes, I know, we didn’t go far.  But I think that is as far as we need to go to gain some insights in this pondering. 

I’d like you to stop for a moment and build a mental image around you.  That is if you haven’t already.  What do you see?  Try to picture all the things I mentioned.  Here are some questions to help you build your mental picture. 

As you walked through the door:

  • What did the door look like?  Was it open or closed?
  • What color was the door?  Did it have a window in it?
  • What type of handle did it have?  Did you turn it? 
  • If you opened the door, did you open it towards you or away from you?

As you moved outside:

  • What type of surface were you standing on? 
  • Was it wet or dry? 
  • What color is it?

As you pictured the evergreens and flowers:

  • What type of evergreen(s) did you visualize?  Are both evergreens the same type?
  • How tall are the evergreens?  Which one is taller?
  • Are there any pinecones or berries on the evergreen(s)?
  • What type of flowers do you see? 
  • Are they all the same type or is there a variety?  How tall are they? 
  • Are the flowers in bloom or dormant?  What colors are they? 
  • What do the stalks and leaves look like?

So what are you thinking now?  Me, I’m thinking that’s an awful lot of questions that we can all answer differently.  I could add even more, but I think you’ve got the picture (yes, pun intended).  I’d be very surprised if any of us have the same picture in our heads. 

Me, I’m sitting on a step.  Am I really?  No, but in my imagination I am.  In reality I’m several states away from where I am imagining I am.  In my imagination I’m sitting right outside my kitchen, on the step to my deck.  The step is made from a dark brown Trex, as is the floor of the deck where my feet are.  The pattern in the flooring runs different directions.  The sun is shining, but there are a few clouds in the sky.  I don’t need my sunglasses.  I didn’t mention the sky.  Did you consider it?  The evergreen on the right is tall with pinecones.  I can just see the top of it over my railing – not the whole evergreen.  Were you picturing Annuals or Perennials?  The flowers I was imagining are actually in a planter, not in the ground.  Honestly, they aren’t even planted yet.  I was just gathering my thoughts about what I want to plant there this year.  Picturing what it might look like.  I’m thinking about 3 different types with different heights and colors.  Probably a tall, spiky type plant in the middle with some pink and yellow around it.  The second evergreen looks shorter but is actually taller.  It’s down in the yard.  My yard slopes quite a bit, so the view from up here is quite a bit different from down there.

So what’s the point of this walk through our imaginations?

  1. We are all influenced by where we come from.  The physical location and environment we grew up and/or currently live in will likely affect the type of door, floor, plants and trees we visualize. 
    • If it has this much affect on such a small activity, imagine how much it might be affecting and influencing how we interact with others.
  2. Visualization is an important skill?  Did you have trouble visualizing?  Was this because you didn’t really try or because it is difficult for you?  If it is indeed difficult, what can you do to help build this skill?  My recommendation – read a fiction book.  Too often we watch a movie, play a video game, or engage in some other passive mental activity.  This has actually had an impact on developing the part of our mind that builds our visualization muscles.  For more information you can click hereto access wikipedia’s Portal to the Mind and Brain. 
    • How might your ability to imagine affect your ability to “see” others viewpoints?
  3. As I described my “perspective” did you change yours or did your picture stay the same?  How might this relate to how we “listen” to others? 
    • As others describe something to us, do we hold tightly to our viewpoint or do we try to make adjustments?

This my reader was but a short activity, a small slice of life.  Each and every day we interact with a myriad of people around us bringing our perspectives, backgrounds, thoughts, imaginations, and experiences with us.  Thousands, possible millions of things affect our unique perspectives.  Trying to understand where someone else comes from, their background and experiences can help you better “see” a situation through their unique viewpoint and perspective.  Digging deeper, asking more questions, and really seeking to build an entire mental image (whether metaphorical or actual) in our mind can help you view things more completely. 

Sometimes it’s important to slow down and really look around you.  To Stop, Look, and Listen.  You might be surprised.  Me, I’m going to stop a moment to enjoy some sunshine on my face in my imagination.  Later today I’m going to find some time to enjoy the real thing – I am after all in the “Sunshine State” of Florida at the moment.  As the old John Denver song says, “sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy.”  It also provides some much needed Vitamin D.  I don’t want to be deficient.

What's on, or rather in, your mind?

What's on, or rather in, your mind?

A recent dialog in a Linked In HR group for Organization Development and Training practioners focused on the concept of “unlearning.”  Can we actually unlearn? 

The concept of “unlearning” has been circulating for a while.   While the idea of “unlearning” might be useful, that’s not really what’s going on within your brain. 

First, let’s review what was posted by Ilze Els, who provides some insights into how the brain actually works.  For those who have read my article, Stop, Look, and Listen, you will see that she touched upon what I was discussing there – the conscious and unconscious mind.  On to Ilze’s post…

“Broadly speaking there are two parts of the brain: working memory and hardwiring/long-term memory: the conscious mind versus the unconscious mind.   Working memory doesn’t really hold very much; in fact only about 7 items at any one time.  Hardwiring/long-term memory holds everything we actually know which basically means anything that you don’t need to think about anymore.  Our brains are designed to push things down into our hardwiring/long-term memory to keep our working memory fresh.

Think about the learning journey – taking on new learning is tiring and hard work and causes stress.  Creating new wiring takes up a lot of effort and resources – literally.  Once we have learned something however (hard wiring) we don’t have to actively think about it anymore and it becomes easy.  The information stored in hardwiring/long-term memory becomes the basis for how we view the world and create new learning.  We perceive the world around us based on our own unique experiences and what bits of information we have stored in our brains from these past experiences.  Thus our reality is our interpretation of the world based on the way our brains are wired.

It’s practically impossible to deconstruct our wiring.  It doesn’t take long to hardwire things – anything we think about several times over makes many connections in the brain thus getting hard wired.

It’s an attention economy in the brain.  Anything we give focus to can become hardwired (remember the brain works hard to get things out of short term memory and into long term memory – it uses less resources this way!).  The more we focus on a given connection, the more we deepen that connection.  In fact what happens when we try to get rid of some wiring is that we actually think about it even more thereby making it even stronger.

It’s almost impossible to get rid of old wiring just by thinking about it!  For example, if you are told not to think about smoking, you immediately think about smoking.  The more you try not to think about smoking the more our brains will tend to focus on smoking.  This increased focus tends to deepen the wiring even further rather than erase it. 

Numerous studies have shown that the ability to effectively handle change is a key predictor for success.  However, the fact is, our brains are hard-wired to resist change.  When we encounter something new, a whole set of automatic responses take over the brain and the body, often interfering with our ability to respond optimally.  Break-through research shows that we can “re-wire” our brains to make changes, throughout the human life span and at any age.  You can“out-smart” your brain when it comes to handling change.  It’s easy to create new wiring. 

Luckily however it’s almost effortless to create new wiring – it’s what our brains are designed to do.  We are able to reconcile impasses by creating new maps.  This is what happens in the moment you have an insight.  As long as we are given the opportunity and encouragement to reflect, we create hard wiring.

Bringing in a new wiring doesn’t get rid of the old wiring.  It’s still there – it’s just not being used so much.  The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ is very relevant here.  By using the old wiring less it becomes weaker and less able to guide our perceptions/thinking, whereas the new wiring becomes stronger and takes priority over the old wiring.

Until very recently, it was widely believed that the human brain is hard-wired in childhood and determined largely by genetics.  Not so.  Current scientific research demonstrates that the brain is capable of growth throughout our lifetime and that while neural connections can disintegrate through lack of use, new connections can also be created.  This ability to re-wire the brain is known as neuroplasticity.

Think of our person wanting to stop smoking – thinking about why you smoke just increases the hard wiring for smoking; thinking about what else you could do at the moment of wanting to smoke creates new wiring.

We create millions of maps every second – with so much going on inside each person’s brain, it behooves us to make it easier for each other and keep things simple.  We love making connections – we often feel energized when we make connections.  It feels good to make connections and have everything fit into our mental maps.  No longer must we believe that our behavior is pre-determined.  If such behavior is changeable, then we can change it.  It is a liberating idea. Understanding your hard-wiring and how to work with it to fully realize your potential.”

Here’s my follow on to Ilze’s post…

My educational background brings me in alignment with Ilze, but then of course I am always open to re-wiring… :-)

I personally think of it as “scaffolding” and creating mental overlays.  The old one is there, the one on top is simply stronger.  Whether it is physically on top within the brain is a whole nother discussion…

If you can create a “bridge” from the first hard wiring point to the new item you want to hard wire it can be processed and embedded more quickly.  We see this in the use of analogies.  Part of the trick in the rewiring (when you want to “unlearn” something) is to focus on the benefits or positives of the new, not the negatives of the old, which will reinforce the earlier hard coding.

The underlying message within Ilze’s response (at least as I see it) is the value of better understanding psychology, cognative science, and medical science.  The better you actually understand how the human brain works, the better able you are to design and redesign things in a way that will “stick”.  Rather than “unlearning”, you “forget”, “bury” or “overwrite” something with new and better information.

I touch upon these concepts – albeit more indirectly – in a couple of my blogs:  If Life is Like a Box of Chocolates, What am I? and Stop, Look, and Listen.”

So what are the take-away messages:

  • The better we understand how the mind itself works, the better we can plan Change Programs.
    • If you work in the Change Management arena (not just the Training and Development arena where this dialog occured), it behoves you to actually understand how the mind works. 
    • The more we can help our target audience (whether training related or other CM activities), the better we can help them learn and adjust.
  • Our brains are designed to push things down into our hardwiring/long-term memory to keep our working memory fresh.
    • The information stored in hardwiring/long-term memory becomes the basis for how we view the world and create new learning. 
    • If you understanding your hard-wiring and how to work with it, it helps you realize your potential.
    • We perceive the world around us based on our own unique experiences and what bits of information we have stored in our brains from these past experiences.
  • It’s not truly “unlearning.” 
    • That might be useful as a concept, but that is not what is actually occuring within your brain.
    • Rather than “unlearning”, you “forget”, “bury” or “overwrite” something with new and better information.
    • The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ is very apropo.
  • Our behavior is not pre-determined. 
    • If such behavior is changeable, then we can change it. 
    • Focus on the new behavior, rather than what you want to change.  It will be more effective.
  • It feels good to make connections and have everything fit into our mental maps. 

Some closing thoughts…

I encourage you to not only focus on what we have “learned” through your experiences and education, but to also expand your understanding of how the mind works as defined by medial science.  There is so much more that I could write on this subject – maybe more later is the writing muse inspires.  Ilze and I kept it simple (relatively).  My latest understanding in this area of how memory works is that a belief was evolving that there was also a “middle ground” between short-term and long-term memory.  In addition, the concept of 7 +or- 2 that has historially been used (Lewin’s research if I remember correctly) may actually be more like 5 + or – 2.  These concepts relate to the concept of “chunking” of information/data. 

Anyone ever thought about how phone numbers are grouped?  That they originally evolved as seven digits?  (Prior to individuals worrying about area or country codes.)  Have you considered how the “breaks” with the dashes help you remember groups of numbers?  They are “chunked” for you. 

Did you happen to notice that I have actively and intentionally “chunk” data for you when I have a large number of bullets (not just here, but in prior posts)?  I do pay attention to the number of bullets I am working with.  I get the list created, then will go back and group together and create sub-bullets where I have more than 5 or 6 bullets.  I use this approach for both writing and in presentations.  It does make a difference.

My hope and wish for today is that you take a few minutes to stop and reflect upon how you have learned, relearned, and “overwritten” information within your mind.  Think about what it has taken to change your memory of someone’s phone number when they change it.  How can your translate your own experiences and understanding of how the mind works into better, more lasting Change Programs?

Some additional information and links from Ilze…

After this article went up, Ilze sent me the following message.

I’ve learned this from our CEO David Rock so in essence he should be quoted for more on this and neuroleadership you can visit his websites:

Which one are you?

Which one are you?

One for me, one for you, more for me, none for you...
One for me, one for you, more for me, none for you…

If you have seen Forrest Gump, you are likely to remember the line in the movie where he states that life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you get.  It’s a memorable statement.  On one hand, it sounds like you need to get started before you know what you have.  On another, it sounds like maybe you should try as many as you can.  At least to a chocoholic like me…   What made this line in the movie so powerful?  The analogy.  Almost everyone could relate to it and could understand the point that Forrest was getting to very quickly. 

I’ve found analogies to be quite useful – at least when your analogy makes sense and your audience “gets it.”   An analogy, as defined by Wikipedia, is a “… cognitive process of transferring information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target), and a linguistic expression corresponding to such a process. … They can play a significant role in problem solving, decision making, perception, memory, creativity, emotion, explanation and communication.”  Whoa, too many big words.  Let’s try that again, in my language.  To me, analogies convey a wealth of information in a short amount of time by allowing you to relate one thing to another.  You apply the properties of one item to another to draw an inference or conclusion.  On a more serious note, for the information junkie and lifelong learners out there, I did find reading and thinking about the Wikipedia definition useful.  I had not processed how many different ways that we use analogies.  I actually use a variation of an analogy for my pictures and underlying text within these ponderings.

The analogy that I have found myself using a great deal lately is people are like rubber bands. 

What, a rubber band you say?  I’m not a little piece of rubber…  No, you are not.  But bear with me and think for a moment about a rubber band.  What comes to mind?  Material?  Uses for the rubber band?  The fact that they wear out?  That they can become brittle?  That they can snap?  That rubber bands come in different sizes?  In different thicknesses?  That some are easier to stretch than others?  Have you thought about how hot and cold can affect their properties?  That children (and some adults who behave like children) like to shoot them at each other? 

What all rubber bands have in common is their ability to expand and contract.  For a rubber band, a few might call it “resilience,” but most simply talk about how stretchy it is. 

People come in different shapes, sizes, colors and strengths.  At times we have more “capacity” to deal with change, we are more resilient.  Other times we have been pulled in six different directions at once and simply have no capacity left.  In “Change Management lanuage,” we often talk of resilience, of resistance to change, or change fatigue.  We often focus on all the outside factors and influences without thinking too much about the inside.  I like to think about both, the inside and the outside view.  Sometimes, the best way that we may be able to help people is to simply help them strengthen their own internal rubber band. 

The question I have for you today is how might the analogy of a rubber band help you not only better understand an individual’s current state, but think differently about how you might help drive effective and more sustainable change?  Changing the factors outside the rubber band are frequently temporary.  Strengthening the rubber band itself can more permanent.

Here’s to hoping that you “get” my rubber band analogy and find a way to build some strength and resiliance within yourself and others.  Find more “stretchiness”  – or find a way to get back some that you use to have.  Cheers!

P.S.  Now go shoot a rubber band and see how it makes you feel.

Are you marching forward or will you Stop, Look, and Listen?

Are you simply marching forward or will you Stop, Look, and Listen?

In one of my recent bouts of insomnia, the phrase Stop, Look, and Listen came to mind.  I tried to ask my subconscious and unconscious mind why it/they pushed this phrase up to my conscious level.  I really wanted to better understand what it was about that phrase that was contributing to my inability to get the much needed sleep I was craving.  I’ve yet to master getting a direct answer from that subconscious or unconscious mind of mine.  So I moved on to my typical response – creating my own hypotheses and having a dialog with myself at the conscious level.  Yes, I talk with myself regularly.  I just try not to do it out loud.  I can receive funny looks from others when I do. 

Upon reflection, it appeared that my subconscious had been analyzing and connecting together things I had been thinking about at a conscious level for the last couple of days.  It had been working in the background and wanted to share a connection it had made.  Below are some of the things that I had been thinking about at the conscious level.

  • The impacts of operating in an environment of constant chaos. 
    • What causes this to develop as a culturally accepted practice, to be the “norm”? 
    • What is the root cause for this behavior?
    • What is the impact of working in that manner for extended periods of time?
    • What level of stress results from this?
    • What coping mechanisms have individuals developed over time?
    • How might one go about influencing and potentially changing this aspect of a culture? 
  • Motivational factors. 
    • That individuals want to be recognized as that, individuals.
    • How different people are motivated by different things.  Not necessarily how some people are motivated by the US dollar, some by the Euro, and some by the Yen as my friend and colleague Tim Stephens responded them I commented on Linked In that I was thinking about this.
  • Value and belief systems, including the concepts of Integrity, Honesty, and Trustworthiness
    • What do these words really imply? 
    • How are they valued or not valued?
    • Where did I observe and/or experience these attributes? 
    • What is their importance in business and personal relationships? 
    • What causes “broken trust?”
  • What needs to and/or can be changed in an environment of constant chaos? 
    • Would better time management help? 
    • Does the client understand the difference between Important vs. Urgent? 
    • Why are the “squeaky wheels” so squeaky?  What is the root cause?
    • What goals are they focusing on – as individuals, as a group, or as a department? 
    • What “out-of-the-box” ideas might reduce stress and the feeling of chaos?
  • Who can help them change?
    • What does it mean to be a leader?
    • What can leaders do to help others embrace change?
    • What is my current role?
    • How far “out of bounds” should I go to help them?
    • What does it really means to be a “Change Agent?”  Not the textbook definition, but who actually causes change to occur and why.

It was interesting (at least to me) that my unconscious mind connected all of these with a single rule that we teach children.  If you don’t know the rule that I am talking about, it relates to crossing a street.  You stop, look both ways, and listen for vehicles before crossing the street.  This is not a rule I have thought about in several years – at least not at a conscious level. 

How often do we all consciously Stop, Look, and Listen?  How might remembering this phrase influence us as adults?  What if we take as an action to consciously stop several times a day?  To raise our heads from our desks, cubes, offices, or other work environments we are in – to really listen to those around us.  Maybe both passively and actively.  Not just listening to the words used, but thinking through the contributing factors and motivations.  How often do we really try to understand each other – at more than a surface level?  How often do we simply reflect?  What would we learn if we observed and processed more and reacted less?

What’s going on around you at work, with your friends, with your family, in your environment?  What could you better understand, influence or change if you stopped trying to go forward so fast, gathered input both directly and perceptually, and gave your brain time to process information before reacting?  As a result of pondering on these topics Covey’s phrase “Seek to Understand before being Understood” came to mind as well as the phrase “sometimes you need to go slow, to go fast”. 

I personally find it amazing and fascinating how our brain works.  Have you ever stopped long enough to appreciate what your brain can actually do and does every day?  The things that we can process mentally and process differently than a computer is truly worth thinking about.  We have the ability to leap over areas, not always thinking linearly.  Anyone who has worked with me (or even talked with me for very long) can attest to the fact that my brain will sometimes leap all over the place.  There are always connections – nodes and synaptic connections as I think of them.  However, what comes out of my mouth has sometimes skipped along 4 or 5 of them.

I’m going to challenge myself to consciously remember to Stop, Look, and Listen more often.  Will you join me?  You might just be surprised at the connections your brain makes.  I was.

A shout out of THANKS to my friend and colleague Long for reviewing this pondering and providing feedback.  His insights are always appreciated.

Note:  In case you are wondering where my brain will go next, my current blog topic list (which I maintain by emailing ideas to myself) includes writing more on Time Management, Change Agents, Covey, Active Listening, Empathy – EQ vs. IQ, Important vs. Urgent, and “going slow to go fast”.  Mental models and further discussions regarding how the brain processes information are also “in the works”.  This can alternately be described as percolating in the subconscious level. 

Some blogs will give you advice, other tools and “rules of thumb”, others are written with the intent of making you think.  I hope that this one made you think a little more today and will help you Stop, Look, and Listen a little more tomorrow.  I also hope to make you laugh along the way.  Hopefully you’ve already figured that out – if not…

Guiding Principles

- Think Holistically
- Seek the Root Causes
- Respect the Individual
- Demonstrate Accountability
- Collaborate with Clients
- Work with Integrity, Always
- Relate to the Business Strategy
- Ensure Alignment
- Demonstrate Responsibility
- Transfer Skills

Thoughts and Quotes