How the Mind-Brain Connection Generates Change and Decision Making

0
115

Share on LinkedIn

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how hard ‘change’ is. Take heart! Change only seems hard because of the way we’re going about it. I’ve been developing systemic brain change models for decades and I’d like to offer my two cents to explain the reasons there’s so much unnecessary failure.

You see, for permanent change to occur (new habits, behaviors, decisions, change management initiatives) the brain must have new circuitry. Too often, current change management/ behavior change models focus on behavior change and omit making alterations to the brain circuits. But this fails: trying to change without generating the new brain circuitry to prompt it is like expecting your bike to ride itself without you peddling, then blaming the bike.

CHANGE MUST COME FROM THE BRAIN

Because all actions (thoughts, behaviors, opinions, habits) are a result – an output – of instructions received from the brain, without modified instructions we continue doing the same thing and getting the same results. Unfortunately, using discipline or rational reasons to change don’t prompt new circuit configurations. Let me explain.

Behaviors are merely responses – the outward manifestation, or outputs – to signals sent from brain circuits. Speaking physiologically, there’s no way to change a behavior by merely trying to change a behavior: to get a different output, new behavior or choice, it’s necessary to go directly to the source (the brain) and make the changes in the circuits themselves or create new ones.

Current change models try to fix the symptom and ignore modifying the initiation point they emanate from.

My book HOW? details the mind-brain connection and how to construct the specific circuitry to generate the choice we desire.

In this article I’ll simply explain how our brains cause change, and why your attempts at permanent change aren’t more consistent.

CHANGE ISN’T HARD

Sadly, change gets a bad rap. Perceived wisdom believes that ‘change is hard’ and ‘no one likes change’ because of the resistance that results when behavior-based models are used. When approached from the brain, not so much.

We’re a culture dominated by the mind. Information. Data. Content. Stories. Facts. Our minds certainly need data to think with, to learn from and weight decisions with. But it becomes a problem when we want to make a change. You see, information – the mind – doesn’t cause change. Brains do.

We begin with a flawed assumption: we assume we can effect change because we desire it or work at it or provide ‘rational’ reasons for it. But when we neglect to involve the brain we fail: change is a brain thing; information is a mind thing. Changing the brain is the precursor to changing the mind.

The problem is our brain’s laziness. Because of the way our brains process data we end up with either short-lived change, no change, or resistance.

CHANGE IS A BRAIN THING

Instructing outputs is what brains do: there is nothing we see, hear, do, think or feel that hasn’t been instructed from our brains. We rely on our brains for everything – thoughts, understanding from books, behaviors and activities, colors, what we hear (sounds and words).

We forget this when seeking change. Using conventional change models – Behavior Modification, Cognitive Behavior Change – try to change with mind-based mastery like discipline, regulation, rational thinking, habit creation, practice, and training.

But without a new home, without new circuits to house new instructions, the mind has no way of carrying out our wishes. Attempts to change behaviors without reprogramming the brain will likely fail, regardless of dedication or will. The numbers concur: Organizational Development fails 97% of the time. Training fails to retain the new knowledge 90% of the time. Diets and smoking cessation fail 97% of the time. Sales fails 95% of the time. Even in our own lives: With all the discipline in the world, we have difficulty making behavior changes permanent. Keep weight off? Get organized? Hard to do. Why?

All behaviors, decisions, habits and choices are outputs, end products, generated from instructions sent from specific, historic circuit configurations in our brains.

WHAT IS A BEHAVIOR?

Since so much of what we want to change is behavioral, let’s look at what a behavior is.

behavior, or any sort of action, thought or choice, is an output arising from a string of brain processes. My Morgenism is ‘A behavior is a Belief in action.’

Simply, the mind sends our brain a signal to ‘do something’ (an input) and the brain complies by sending the signals to a ‘similar-enough’ set of existing circuits that translate the request into instructions for some sort of output.

These signals are mechanical, electro-chemical, and automatic. No meaning or intent involved. Meaning and intent are mind things. Brains, comprised of 86 billion neurons and trillions of neural connections and synapses, are unconscious and just do what they’re told via signals; they don’t judge good/bad, right/wrong.

Here’s a simplified explanation of the string of events:

  • All incoming words, directions, ideas, promises, etc.
  • enter our brains as puffs of air (inputs without meaning!) and
  • get transformed into electro-chemical signals that
  • eventually get automatically dispatched to ‘similar-enough’ (historic, existing) circuits
  • for translation into action (outputs, such as new behaviors, decisions, ideas)
  • via our mind.

Again, there is no meaning, no intent, no thinking involved. Mechanical. Electro-chemical. Automatic. Take a look:

All this occurs in five one-hundreths of a second. So: behaviors are outputswithout inputs, no outputs can exist. Behaviors are a result, an end product of inputs and cannot be modified as such.

HOW WE GET RESISTANCE

All outputs that emerge are specific to an existing circuit: the brain will always produce the same output when the same directives and thoughts are input. So a machine programmed (input) to make a chair will produce (output) the same chair each time. To make a table you must reprogram the machine.

Given there are billions of bits of data coming into our brains every second our mind ignores, overlooks, forgets, most of it. When we request an action that differs from the circuit that receives it, or make new requests that don’t have a circuit, we get resistance. It’s why we fail when we try to do something different. Without changing the input we’re trying to turn the chair into a table.

When our brains are asked to do something that they have no circuits to interpret we resist or fail or misunderstand: incoming instructions get lost in translation, misinterpretation, or assumption.

This is what happens when we decide to go on another diet for example: our brain references the existing DIET superhighway and we get the same results we got previously. Hence the 97% failure rate. We can force the behavior part for a while, and possibly even lose the weight, but we don’t have the circuits to maintain it.

WHY CHANGE ATTEMPTS FAIL

For any action, any change, any new behavior, habit or choice, we need both the mind and the brain: The mind directs requests to, and carries out instructions from, the brain but doesn’t instigate the activity itself. Think of it like a car’s engine: you turn the car on (i.e. the mind) and it moves (the mind) but needs the engine (i.e. the brain) to make it work.

And herein lie the problem. Because our behaviors emerge from established circuits (called Superhighways) that have been created and sustained during our lifetime, we keep doing what we’ve always done regardless of any differences we desire: it’s how our circuitry is programmed. Obviously we’re limited to choices that embrace our unique histories and mental models and… here is the annoying part… maintains the status quo.

It rules our lives: We live around people of similar political beliefs; our friends share ideas and lifestyles similar to ours; what we read, the TV news we watch, where we take vacations, are largely similar to those in our sphere. Even our curiosity is restricted accordingly. Sadly, we either don’t notice unfamiliar content or have problems accepting ideas foreign to us.

But, in general, this works well for us and keeps us comfortable – until we want to do something ‘different’, or try to change/create a habit, or when we’re involved in a change management process in our companies that requires new activities.

THERE IS NO REALITY

And that brings up another item that causes us to fail: we seem to think there is something called ‘rational’ and we try to do ‘what’s right’. But there is no reality. Basically, our brains – yes, back to the culprit – make up our reality from the lives we’ve lived. As David Eagleman says in The Brain,

“..our picture of the external world isn’t necessarily an accurate representation. Our perception of reality has less to do with what’s happening out there, and more to do with what’s happening inside our brain.” [pg 40]

“Each of us has our own narrative and we have no reason not to believe it. Our brains are built on electrochemical signals that we interpret as our lives and experience… there’s no single version of reality. Each brain carries its own truth via billions of signals triggering chemical pulses and trillions of connections between neurons. [pg 73-74] [bold mine]

Indeed, everything we think, hear, decide, and choose is an output, an interpretation made by, and directed from our brains. We’re not in control.

So one last reminder: Since all activity is an output from directions our brains give our mind, you can’t change a behavior (mind) by trying to change a behavior (mind) as there are no accompanying brain circuits to generate new directives for new outputs.

Got it?

Sharon-Drew Morgen
I'm an original thinker. I wrote the NYT Bestseller Selling with Integrity and 8 other books bridging systemic brain change models with business, for sales, leadership, communications, coaching. I invented Buying Facilitation(R) (Buy Side support), How of Change(tm) (creates neural pathways for habit change), and listening without bias. I coach, train, speak, and consult companies and teams who seek Servant Leader models.

ADD YOUR COMMENT

Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here