The Neuroscience of Change
What do our bodies have to do with living a self-directed life? What say do they have in our actions and behaviors, aside from providing a more or less sports-inclined physique?
In this conversation with leadership coach Amanda Blake, we learn how the body defines our scope of possibility, how we can use it to create massive shifts, and why being in direct contact with life through the body is so important.
A Social-emotional Sense Organ
The body is our social and emotional sense organ and is shaped by the life that we’ve lived. It functions as an antenna and picks up and emanates signals all the time about our emotional state in response to life. This shaping goes on to affect our perceptions and our actions, primarily by defining what possibilities we see.
As a result we are more likely to engage in some behaviors rather than others, a behavioral bias, and more likely to see some possibilities rather than others, a perceptual bias.
As a coach sometimes all it takes is to show a client what’s possible – but sometimes the client will still not be able to see it; to them you’re suggesting something that is impossible for them. This is because their system makes some things more possible than others based on how it’s been shaped by experience.
Our nervous systems are evolved to move towards nourishment and away from danger, towards pleasure and away from pain. Our brains evolved to develop ways processing social and emotional information, which trained the nervous system to always be trying to optimize for safety, connection and respect (the three essential nutrients for humans).
Creating an Embodied Shift
By the time we are young adults we have certain behaviors and these define our perception of experience and the availability of possibilities for action. But we can change more than we think we can.
How to help clients shift a response:
- Have them pay attention to how they respond physically to the reaction they want to change.
- Create an action paired with a mantra that embodies the new behavior (activates muscle memory).
- Use the action + mantra in the situation.
In order to change behavior there needs to be a physical learning that the new behavior is possible. Using these steps you disrupt the old behavior and create the new one simultaneously. The physical shift can be something very small, even imperceptible from outside, but that shifts something for the client.
Conceptual vs Embodied Self-awareness
A distinction that is very useful when engaging with clients looking for deep change is that there are two modes of self-awareness:
- Conceptual self-awareness: involves face, head and neck, speech and auditory centers in the brain.
- Embodied self-awareness: an experience throughout the body, organs and muscles, plus areas in brain.
These two are anatomically and physiologically different. Embodied self-awareness is the felt sense knowing. The first (conceptual self-awareness) takes you anywhere in time, embodied self-awareness brings you into this moment in time.
As Amanda reflects, when you learn how to access the intelligence hidden in sensation, you open the door to more meaning, greater courage, deeper connection, and more powerful leadership than you ever realized was possible.