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The Tricky Brain at Work

In our previous blog ‘The Tricky Brain’, we spoke about how our old and new brain capabilities can keep us stuck at times and unintentionally maintain our distress.

Let’s think about how the tricky brain might play out at work with an example to consider how the old brain and new brain might interact to influence your experience. Imagine you have a big work meeting coming up. Firstly let’s think of the positives of having this type of brain. Your new brain can think back on past business meetings and/or interactions with your client, allowing you to reflect and learn from these experiences. In addition, your brain’s ability to think to the future means that you can use this information to plan your approach and help you feel prepared, research what would be helpful to bring to the meeting, and think ahead to consider the best route to avoid traffic to ensure you’re on time. Your brain’s ability to mentalise means that you have an awareness of how your behaviour in the meeting might impact others, helping you to consider your words, tone and countenance to build positive working relationships.

All sounds great, right? Now let’s consider the drawbacks. The time-travelling tricky human brain can also ruminate over and over again on that one meeting where you stuttered and spilt your coffee, or to that time where you stood up and gave your opinion only to have your thoughts squashed by your colleague. It can also predict and imagine the very worst scenario of what might happen; “When I stand up to give the presentation I’ll be so nervous that I won’t be able to speak… They’re going to see through me and realise that I don’t know what I’m doing”. How do these worries make you feel? Each time these new brain thoughts and worries enter our mind they activate the threat system in our old brain, producing a cascade response that produces distressing and uncomfortable body and emotional states. In this moment it’s like we’ve put on a pair of tinted glasses that biases how we perceive the situation. Only information that confirms our fears filters through, and any information which might contradict this bounces straight off. This stops us from functioning as the best version of ourselves because we’re limited to the capabilities of our threat-focused mind. This literally affects our entire mindset – what we can see, how we feel, how we behave, what we imagine, what memories we lay down. How on earth can we perform well, feel satisfied and accomplished when we’re functioning from this place? The lens of the threat-focused mindset literally won’t let us!

And this isn’t just limited to meetings but is how our brain functions every time our old brain hijacks our experience, keeping our threat system in the driving seat. It’s not our fault, as we didn’t choose to have these abilities and these tricky human brains. But it can be helpful to become aware of these loops and find wise ways of working with them.