We are often asked what are good (i.e. accessible and reliable) sources of information about the practical application of neuroscience. Resources that we frequently find ourselves referring people to include:
This is a copy of a guest blog we did recently for Strengths Partnership.
There is a wide range of evidence that for all of us humans there are a huge range of benefits to be had from adopting a positive outlook and focusing on our strengths. Here are a few things we would all like to have on our CV and on those around us: People who think more positively and who use their strengths more: live longer (Levy et al 2002.Giltay 2004 ), achieve a higher income (Neve 2012) and are more likely to flourish as individuals and teams (Losado & Fredrickson 2005)
What amazing effects can be gained then from being more positive and focusing on our strengths! This is great if we already do this, but if not, such words and studies can become a source of frustration if we are struggling to adopt a positive mindset. A key message to hold on to is that we can all change and enhance our habits. Knowing what to do and how to do it can help speed up the process. Before we turn to the all-important ‘how to’ guide, let’s get under the ‘hood of the head’ and gain a better understanding of how our brains can help us create new positive habits.
Neuroscience and Psychology offer powerful insights to what is happening in the brain. Let’s start by highlighting that our brains have limited capacity to process information and the world provides way more than our brains can handle, which is why we need mental short cuts/habits to function. Estimates range from 40-80%+ of what we humans do is driven and controlled by habit. This highlights the effects of a fundamental process our brain carries out in order to ‘help’ us function in the world we live in. This process is called neuroplasticity and describes the brain’s ability to re-wire itself to help us carry out activities we regularly do more efficiently, often without needing to tap into our very limited conscious processing reserves.
So our goal should be to work out which habits are more or less helpful and then put together a plan to ensure the helpful habits are cultivated and the less helpful ones are weeded out. If we want to enhance or develop our positivity or focus on strengths, we are going to need to work up a plan and then stick with it. We can’t avoid the fact it will take sustained focus and effort but we can turn knowledge about habits into a recipe for habit change. This can help increase the speed and efficiency of habit change. We can also look to enjoy the journey and not be trying to get to the destination through gritted teeth!
At Think Change, we talk a lot about a ‘habit change’ recipe. If the key elements are followed we have a very good chance of convincing the brain to put precious cognitive resources into creating new neural pathways and enhancing existing ones. This is how we can create new default ways to perceive, think and behave.
Self-generated insight. Our brains react very differently in situations where 1. we are told something or 2. we work it out for ourselves. When we have our own insights, this builds far greater levels of motivation and commitment for change. Once we are convinced about a change, a useful activity is to break down our wanted and perhaps unwanted habits into three elements of Cue (the trigger) – Routine (what do we then do) – Reward (what do we get out of the routine). We can then look at altering these elements to help us think and behave in line with the habit we are trying to create.
Vision/Visualise. Our brains have been shown to react in a very similar way if we think about doing something or if we actually do it. Neurons will connect up to help the activity take place. Having a very clear vision of what we want to achieve will help us conceptualise what we need to focus on and then help us to place ourselves in that mental context. This is a simple but effective way of getting our brains to practice a new way of being and encourage the process of neuroplasticity to occur. Visualising what success will look like and feel like will also give a positive boost to your motivation for the journey and end point.
You cannot have a conscious thought without it being routed first through the brain centres associated with emotion. So your emotional state at a given point in time will have a big impact on how you think. If you are in a positive emotional state, you will be more likely to think broadly and see connections between seemingly unconnected elements (Fredrickson, 2004). You are also more likely to be creative, innovative and sociable (Lyubomirsky et al 2005), many of the things that could help on your change or learning journey.
Attention Density. People love to ask how long it takes to change a habit and the answer is probably anywhere between 1-10,000 times. It will depend in part on how ingrained the habit is as well as our motivation to change. What we can say is it will depend on three key factors relating to how we focus our attention on our emerging habit. Frequency (how often) – Duration (how long each time) – Quality (in what level of depth). We need to plan in ways that without thinking we will be reminded to think about/practice our new habit. Alarms in our calendar, post-it notes on our lap top, wearing a watch or a ring on the other arm/finger can be useful physical reminders to remind us of our desired new habit. We will then need to ensure we are focussing on this new habit for enough time and at the right level of depth – it really will be up to you to work out the finer details.
Reward brings with it a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine serves a wide range of purposes in the brain and one is to act like a SAVE button. When things go well, the brain will seek to ensure that it can be repeated and will strengthen the neural connections that brought about that positive outcome/reward. We can tap into this by noticing when things go well, take time to reflect on our actions and successes, notice our progress which will mean mapping out where we started and any mini milestones along the way. Essentially, we are talking about feedback and positive reinforcement – we can set this up with others so that they can provide it and we can also choose to find it and give those rewards/reinforcement to ourselves.
In summary, key steps we will need to take if we are going to change our habits and embed learning effectively will be to develop: Personal motivation for a change, Belief in our ability to change, A plan – covering both destination and journey, Focus and sustained activity (create reminders), Feedback and Rewards
We are delighted to be starting work with Joosr to help them add neuroscience to the already wide range of topics covered by their book summaries. Rather than summarising other books, in this instance we will be creating original content for some of the most pertinent aspects of using neuroscience in the workplace. Joosr summaries are a great way of acquiring new knowledge, or staying up to date with what is going on and the learning is delivered in a very ‘brain-friendly’ way.
It would be nice to think that this succinct but informative BBC article would put an end to this question for once and for all but that is probably too much to ask. As it alludes to in the item, as far as the brain is concerned, there is more difference within gender than there is between gender and we may never get to the root of what is ‘nature’ and what is ‘nurture’ – maybe we should settle on ‘nurtured nature’?
It is obviously true that you ‘notice what you notice’ but neuroscience does seem to be getting more and more prevalent in the mainstream media and many domains of life. For example if you were to ask your search engine of choice about neuroscience stories in the news this month the thousands of results would include topics as diverse as:
The variety of applicatins of neuroscience is likely to continue to increase but at Think Change we remain focused – for now at any rate – on allying the useful aspects of NS to Change, Leadership and Learning & development. There is plenty of new material emerging in these domains to keep us busy for the foreseeable future.
We recently spoke at a psychology careers day for Sixth Form students where students had presentations from speakers using psychology in a range of different environments such as new driver coaching based on ‘black box’ data, clinical trials management and educational psychology. Our contribution was based on using psychology within the workplace and as part of it we asked participants if they could identify which of these four models was the ‘Odd one out’.
- Change curve (Kubler Ross)
- Dimensions of national culture (Hofstede)
- Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow)
- Team development (Tuckman)
The answer – or one answer – is Tuckman’s Team development model as it is based on robust research whereas the other three all have significant weaknesses or flaws in terms of their empirical validity. However, what all four have in common is high ‘face validity’ and a track record of being very useful models to help introduce people to the topic and start to explore how they may be at work in their own context and domain.
Neuroscience makes it clear that ‘old dogs can learn new tricks’ and we have been exemplifying this recently by creating a lot of digital material for clients, for example we have made a number of contributions to the CIPD Future of Learning hub. Whether we call it ‘e-learning’ or ‘m-learning’ or ‘flipped classroom’ or whatever is neither here nor there; what matters is that it offers ‘brain-friendly’ opportunities for learners to engage with relevant material. What makes it ‘brain-friendly’ includes factors such as:
- the learner being in control of where and when they engage with the material
- bite-size chunks making it easy to focus on the ‘vital few’ rather than being distracted by the ‘trivial many’;
- good support for repetition through automated reminders etc.
- in-sync dual channel processing i.e. the audio and visual messages are fully aligned
- ready gamification by points, badges etc.
Combined, these features can significantly increase engagement and retention levels but given the extent to which learning is a social experience it is unlikely that they will ever totally replace the value of face-to-face interactions. The material will be available on our website later this year.
We have been running a unique one-day workshop for a Legal Services client where the majority of participants are lawyers. We have been using the latest neuroscience and psychology along with proven tools and techniques to allow participants to master the ‘head, heart and hands’ elements of change.
The workshop is designed to help participants to:
- Be familiar with the brain’s key processes, strengths and limitations relating to change
- Know how we typically react to externally driven changes
- Understand how to take control of the brain to make externally driven change a more positive experience
- Know how to use the brain to habituate self-directed change
- Learn to use a range of tools to support successful change
- Know how best to support others in times of change
To date over 150 participants have attended the sessions and their evaluations give a Net Promoter Score of 99% i.e. 99% would recommend attending the session to a colleague.
The workshop is a blend of input, group discussion, exercises and personal reflection that allows participants to create their own learning and action points. Participants are invited to define their own context for the workshop i.e. to consider personal, vocational, previous or planned changes as they wish which helps to make the material more personal, relevant and meaningful. The workshop is very interactive and engaging.
This is a small sample of the feedback:
- Useful insight for all areas of ‘change’ both personal and professional
- Definitely will strongly encourage other members of my team to attend
- Very interesting approach to what is often such a negative concept i.e. change
- Very enjoyable and accessible session
- A nicely focused session with some very interesting content
- Interesting and practical
- Has made me less fearful and given me practical strategies
- Brilliant, made subject matter engaging and enjoyable
- Was unsure how ‘cringe worthy’ this would be but a really pleasant surprise and a good day
- Course was very intelligently presented
- Very informative and useful, allows me to look at change in a different light
- An interesting and helpful day. Learned quite a lot. Strategies suggested to manage change were useful
- Some very useful ideas, with useful follow up reading.
- Excellent, well worth the day out of work!
- Very interesting, enjoyable, inspiring course
If you would like to know more about this unique, innovative and practical workshop please contact us
Short, sweet and accurate!
Given the time of year there should be an abundance of happiness about already but just to add to it here is a link to a radio station focused on providing “Purpose-driven and consciously prepared brain food from the beaches of Malibu, California”. What makes it worth listening to is the conversation between Dr’s Alex Korb and Dan Siegel about happiness.
It is best to skip about two minutes in to avoid some of the less interesting introductory patter. Enjoy, and have a Happy Christmas and New Year.