The Resilient Brain

How much time have you spent in your conscious mind today? For the majority of people, the answer will be “a lot”.  

As humans, we spend virtually all our time in our conscious minds, which makes sense since is the conscious mind that is responsible for our experience of life.  

By default, if we have a conscious mind, then we must have an unconscious one too. While this is true, the reality is that we rarely get in touch with that part of our brain and tend to undervalue it or not even to talk about it as a result.  

Do forgive me for talking about it.  

You might think that you go through life using your conscious mind to make decisions, come up with ideas for your business and create solutions to tricky challenges.  

But the real power lies in your unconscious mind 

The truth is that it’s your unconscious mind that holds all the power, and it’s this part of you that is your greatest mental asset. Iyou can harness that power, you’ll better home in on success in your business, and steer the ship through this coronavirus chaos or any future challenge you face.  

The unconscious mind doesn’t rest. It will work on problems continuously, drawing on a vast amount of information to do so; information that the conscious mind just isn’t able to access.  

Hence why you’ve heard it said that you should “sleep on it” when faced with a monumental decision.  

The unconscious mind is your friend. With innate perfect self-knowledge it will be a far better helper when you come to make big decisions. It really is the most valuable tool you’ve got for improving your leadership.  

But how do you put your unconscious mind in the driver’s seat? To understand that, we need to think about the brain first.   

It is the thing that’s going to make all the difference to your positivity approach, after all. That’s because of one specific quality which I like to call the Hare and Tortoise effect. 

The hare and the tortoise 

Every person’s brain has not one but two systems that they use to do their thinking. While similar, they are distinct. The first is simply a fast system (or “System 1” to academic psychologists, and “Hare” to me), and the second is a slow one (or “System 2”to academics and, you guessed it, “Tortoise” to me).  

Hare is your quick version of thinking. It’s intuitive, fast, automatic, effortless and involuntary, whereas Tortoise requires you to use concentration, effort and focus, can use logic and maths, and often involves choice making.  

I’ll give you an example. 

You’re reading a news article on a website that you haven’t visited beforeGenerally, you’ll access the content of the message and pay it attention before considering the source.  

While you were reading, Hare thought processes happened automatically and quickly. They were likely heavily influenced by context, your own past experience and were probably axiomatically valid. That’s because your experience alone is enough to create belief. You read the article and probably took the message you felt it contained, based on your own experience of reality.  

On the other hand, Tortoise thought processes were intentionally controlled, took some effort and required you to use evidence to justify the facts.  

Hare worked first, looking out for patterns, consistency and shortcuts that allowed you to process the article’s message quickly. Then perhaps you went on to evaluate the credibility of the article once Tortoise had kicked in.  

It’s an illustration of Hare and Tortoise working together to reduce your brain’s effort as far as possible, by relying on Hare whenever it can. In psychology we call it cognitive ease 

But how does the brain decide whether Hare or Tortoise should react to any given situation?  

Expectations and reality 

The conscious mind’s main responsibility is to keep us safe, for example, by reacting appropriately to threats and taking opportunities to eat and drink. And as a result, Hare prioritises: 

  • Strong signals like loud noises 
  • Threatening signals  
  • Appetite-related signals (e.g. hunger) 
  • Expectation signals, or the things we expect to see 

Since our conscious mind only processes the things it expects to see, it won’t notice something negative unless it is a strong signal, a threatening signal or an appetite-related signal.  

It’s good news for anyone who’s in a positive state, but not so good for a negative person.   

If you’re in a negative state, it makes sense that you notice all the negatives of any given situation, because you are expecting them or looking out for them, if you will 

While many people are under the impression that there is an absolute independent external reality happening around us, one that we must fit our lives around, this isn’t actually true. As the Hare and Tortoise analogy illustrated, we create belief based on our experiences.  

Indeed, reality is subjective to individual experience which we unconsciously create for ourselves, based on our own personal perceptions. The way that we perceive what’s happening around us is hardwired into the way our brains and nervous systems operate.  

This is particularly interesting because it’s where you can see real power in positivity as it affects different people’s reality.  

You might enjoy a pistachio ice cream in the sun. But your friend? She’d really rather not; doesn’t like the taste one bit. Your cousin? His nut allergy means it could put his life in danger so he will steer well clear.  

It’s the same ice cream, but each person has their own version of it, subject to their own reality.  

Perceptions shape your reality, but what not everyone realises is that you can change those perceptions. It follows that your reality can change too. 

How do you change your reality?  

The simple trick is to reframe your situation. I’m releasing a book in June which outlines several examples and reframing exercises, as well as further illustrations of how shifts in thinking led to very different realities for several people, but here’s the short version. 

Positive people reframe situations one way, and negative people another. The simple technique that will put you in the first camp is to ask yourself “How can I look at this differently and more positively?” when faced with an unexpected, difficult situation.  

As you would expect, a negative person would reframe that situation as being potentially even worse.  

The more you use reframing techniques and harness the power of your unconscious mind to remain in a positive state, the more synaptic and biochemical changes you will experience, which are crucial for building resilience.  

There has never been a more appropriate time for business owners and CEOs to build their resilience than now 

Right now, no-one knows quite what is ahead of us, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the strange changes that every business has had to make during the chaos.  

But the more resilient you can be as a leader, and the more resilience you can instil in your team, the better chance your business will have of pursuing success after we’ve come out of this covid-tunnel.  

Resilience is not hinged on being happy, and it’s not about ignoring challenges either; it’s all in the positivity 

Simply “being in a good mood will not be enough to help you if circumstances change for the worseBut if you are good at spending time in a positive state, you will find that you are much more resilient to the inevitable challenges ahead.   

It’s not just your own positivity that could make all the difference to what happens next in your business either. Imagine the impact it would have if all your colleagues and employees were similarly resilient.  

There would be less distraction from your goals and less concern about the challenges thrown up by coronavirus. Employees would also feel less tempted to duck out on sick leave; the last thing you need after business can pick up again and people come off furlough.  

Resilience results in goals met 

More resilience in your workforce means better effort to do the things that will achieve the goal of your business. It’s simple, and it’s true.  

Maybe you’ve also already noticed that the resilient, positive people are the ones who have remained calm, strong and purposeful during the pandemic. Many of them lead businesses which are yet to suffer, or have met these unprecedented challenges with energetic, pragmatic solutions to continue to move forward.  

It’s not just resilience that positivity will effect, but ability too. Did you know that your analytical ability is largely governed by your emotions? And the more intelligent you can be, the more likely your business is to improve or to pull through the potential recession. Again, it’s all in the power of positivity.  

When you’re in a positive emotional state, your cerebral cortex is fully engaged and able to do things that will translate into improved business performance: 

  • Deploy all of your intellect 
  • Heighten your analytical reasoning skills 
  • Create positive expectations which will force you to find solutions quicker 
  • Make better decisions 

So use positive practices in your workplace and use exercises to encourage staff to do the sameThen you’ll see the benefit that comes from leading a solutions-oriented workforce in a positive state 

It’s a better place to be; not just during a pandemic and the chaos that ensues, but every day too, for the rest of your life.  

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