Chris Samsa, positive psychologist and senior consultant with the Neuroleadership Group delivered a riveting presentation to members of the CIPD North Yorkshire network last week. Fresh from an encounter with the Dalai Lama, Chris made the case for a positive psychology approach to support our understanding of coaching, leadership and life in general. Throughout the evening, the audience were treated to a mind-blowing assortment of fascinating insights about neuroscience - the study of the nervous system - here are five of my favourites.
Yes. That's 100 billion. What this means is that there are more way of creating connections in the brain than there are atoms in the universe. Perhaps unsurprising, then, that the principles of neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to change itself) allow for near-limitless acceptance and potential for change.
Although the lion's share of neurons reside in the brain, around 100 million neurons are found in our gut. Their function? To send important messages around the nervous system - messages that we're all use to experiencing. Hunger, fear, anxiety, satiety, discomfort and more - these emotions and feelings all originate from our gut.
Chris used this opportunity to make an interesting point about the associations we place on these feelings. For example, is it fair to categorise emotions such as fear as positive or negative? Perhaps it's about what we do with those emotions after experiencing them that gives us those associations. Interesting food for thought.
Oxytocin - one of the positive neurotransmitters - affects our experience of pleasure, relatedness, emotions and extroversion. Stimulating our oxytocin levels has been shown to increase performance in 'CRA' problems. For instance - can you find a word to connect the three words below?*:
force | line | mail
Chris went on to replicate this effect with the audience using a clever game interspersed with an oxytocin break- in this case, a hug.
After a short oxytocin burst, the whole group showed a marked improvement in solving the CRA problems. These types of problems measure our ability to find connections in seemingly unconnected things. What better definition for creativity?
*The word is 'air'.
I've written about Carol Dweck's work on fixed/growth mindset several times before - it's a startling, empowering way of looking at our model of the world and its effect on those around us. Dweck's research has demonstrated that giving praise for intelligence is counterproductive, because the learner does not wish to be prove the idea that they are classified as 'clever'. This deterministic, fixed mindset can be limiting and will often result in plateau and unfulfilled potential. By comparison, the growth mindset can be boosted through giving praise for effort - leading to the belief that intelligence can be developed, in turn promoting a desire for learning.
In helping to promote a growth mindset, Chris shared two words that can make a big difference:
Consider the following scenario. A colleague has been talking to you about a problem that they're working on. What would be the effect on them if you opted for one of the following responses?
1) You've not got there yet.
2) You're not going to solve this one. Try something else.
If you're a manager - consider whether there's anyone in your team that you might have a fixed mindset about ("they'll never change"). How might that be reframed to consider it from a growth mindeset point of view.
In 2003, Eisenberg, Lieberman and Williams used neuroimaging to show that social pain (such as isolation) is experienced more severely than physical pain. It even lasts for longer.
Building on this research, Dan Siegel & David Rock proposed 'The Healthy Mind Platter', a series of social needs that the brain needs in order to function optimally:
- Sleep time: when we give the brain a break it needs to consolidate learning and activity from the day
- Focus time: focussing on tasks in a goal oriented way
- Play time: letting go, being spontaneous and creative
- Connecting time: connecting with others activates and rewards the brain’s relational circuitry
- Physical time: moving the body strengthens the brain
- Down time: letting the mind wander - non focussed without any specific goal
- Time-in: quietly reflecting internally / mindfulness