In some recent coaching with clients, I have been discussing the structure of the brain and how it affects our responses – and how those responses create the stories we tell ourselves about the world. It’s these stories that create our reality – and if we want something different (better?), we need to create different stories.
We process our world starting with the most fundamental brain structures of the amygdala and limbic system. These structures are where we answer the gut questions - “am I safe?” and “am I respected?”. To no one’s surprise, if the answers are NO, we don’t go any further in our processing. We focus on making ourselves safe and maybe getting angry about being disrespected, and the stories we tell are all about those elements.
Only after we get a YES to those questions, do we move processing to the neocortex and then the prefrontal cortex of our brains. When we engage these regions, we can recognize patterns and accomplish complicated problem solving. This is the deep thinking we all need to engage in, in order to truly master our intricate lives. What surprises me is how often we fall short of that level of engagement with our brains, and we don’t even realize how this is creating sub-optimal outcomes.
We all process thru the limbic first, so getting angry or upset is often inevitable. It’s when we stop the story there that there is a problem. However, we sometimes see individuals who routinely get ‘angry’ at work – and then STAY angry – and they don’t seem to realize that they are shutting down their own brains.
Of course, recognizing when others are stuck is easier that recognizing when we ourselves are stuck. But there’s hope – if we breathe deeply, and focus on managing our emotions (moving from anger to inquiry), we can reconnect to our neocortex and get thinking again!