Your Mind Can Overpower Your Brain

2015-2016 Issue 1

brain Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz and Dr. Rebecca Gladding have written a powerful book called You Are Not Your Brain. It is a must-read for leaders who want to create healthy, highly productive work cultures, or for individuals who want to take better control of their lives.

The brain’s main function is to help us survive. The brain merely receives and processes information from the external environment in a very automatic and programmed manner; no thought or awareness is involved. The problem lies in that we often engage in negative behaviours in the short term to protect ourselves from stimuli that are perceived to be threatening. For example, having negative encounters with a toxic boss might cause us to think that we are unworthy, resulting in a plethora of unhealthy reactions, such as avoiding confrontations with others. Unfortunately, every time we think such self-deprecating things or behave in self-destructive ways, the brain encodes these negative thoughts and behaviours, dooming us to a lifetime of bad habits.

Schwartz and Gladding call these “deceptive brain messages” that they define as “false or inaccurate thoughts, or unhelpful, distracting impulses, urges or desires that take you away from your true goals and intentions in life.” That’s why toxic bosses and unhealthy work cultures are a threat to direct reports and, ultimately, to productivity – employees engage in “fight or flight” behaviours that result in low morale, disengagement, high stress and anxiety, and poor longer term business results.

Your Mind Can Overpower Your Brain

The good news is that, on an individual basis, you can deploy your mind to constructively focus your attention to overcome negative thoughts and behaviours. The authors write that “the mind is involved in helping you constructively focus your attention. Why is this important? When you learn how to focus your attention in positive, beneficial ways, you actually rewire your brain to support those actions and habits.”

Schwartz and Gladding outline a four-step method to allow your mind to take control over deceptive brain messages and take control of your life:

  1. Relabel – Identify your deceptive brain messages and the uncomfortable sensations; call them what they really are.
  2. Reframe – Change your perception of the importance of the deceptive brain messages; say why these thoughts, urges and impulses keep bothering you. They are false brain messages.
  3. Refocus – Direct your attention toward an activity or mental process that is wholesome and productive.
  4. Revalue – Clearly see the thoughts, urges and impulses for what they are: simply sensations caused by deceptive brain messages that are not true and that have little to no value.

Implications for Leadership

The emerging field of neuroleadership is providing us with new knowledge of the brain that managers must absorb and understand if they are to fulfill their roles as organizational leaders. After having recently completed my Certificate in the Foundations of Neuroleadership, there is no doubt in my mind that understanding the human brain is essential in leadership endeavours such as self-awareness, communications, employee motivation, empowerment and delegation, conflict resolution, change management, team-building, innovation and building strong organizational cultures.

Neuroleadership is an exciting advance in management and leadership development, and pioneers such as Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding are equipping us with knowledge and processes that are exciting with respect to the development of individuals, teams and organizations.


Click here for more information on the Brain and Leadership course.

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