The Neuroscience Behind Acting Dumb
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide

In stressful times and situations, emotions wash over us. We speak and act before we think, or we completely shut down and retreat into ourselves. Confronted with wild animals, this automatic fight, flight, or freeze response helped the hunter gatherer survive, but today most people rarely ever face life threatening danger.

Nevertheless, under stress, chemical processes in our limbic system – the older part of our brain where emotions reside – lead us to react automatically before going into reflection mode. We can, however, train ourselves to catch that moment before we react, and calm down by going into reflection. In coaching we help our clients to train that muscle.

To thrive in today’s world, we need to use more of the brain’s newer areas, the neocortex and prefrontal lobe, which get activated when we analyse situations, strategize, and make informed decisions.

Why do we perceive so many situations and encounters as life threatening?

Why is there still so much fight, flight or freeze response going around when we mostly don’t need that to survive? The trouble is that collectively, we have created an environment of continuous overstimulation. What we can do individually is to be more mindful of how much recovery we allow our brains, so we can act more measured and reflected in stressful situations.

This is the sweet spot of personal and collective change.

The proverbial 80 hours week literally makes intelligent people act dumb, because overstimulation clouds your decision making, no matter if you are a manager or a surgeon. And this doesn’t just affect the overworked. Statistics show that all around the world, people don’t only lack sleep, but that they use all spare moments to engage with their technical devices, where in the past they would have let their minds wander.

But how can you increase downtime when your daily schedule is packed, and you cannot change that? We cannot all spare an hour for daily meditation. But here’s the good news:

Everyone is able to integrate tiny habits into their daily routines.

So what characterises a tiny habit? It is so small and easy to do, that you just do it. And like any habit you want to stick to, you find a trigger that reminds you of starting that habit. We all have strings of habits in our lives, for instance, getting up in the morning, triggers you to go to the bathroom, then to dress, then to make a cup of coffee, … all tiny habits. And you perform that string of tiny habits automatically each day. Find a habit, and make it the trigger to start your new, tiny habit. Tiny habits are powerful, and here’s why:

Tiny habits will allow you to create brain rest almost anytime and anywhere, literally on an elevator ride to an appointment.

A tiny habit to get brain rest could be putting down your phone for a couple of minutes, and letting your mind wander on your way to work. Different tiny habits work for different personalities and schedules, so you have to figure out for yourself which ones you can stick to.

So where in your day do you regularly have a few minutes, where you could put down everything to just let the mind wander and process all the stimuli without going to action or taking in more?

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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