The Change curve I discussed last week also represents what’s happening at a neurological standpoint: The universal and predictable response of humans to change will be: To try to avoid it!
Indeed, change is painful so we want to run away from it. But understanding the brain’s chemistry and mechanics can improve people’s abilities to adapt to new ways of doing things by ameliorating the pain of change.
Change brings psychological and physical discomfort. The prefrontal cortex is firing up when change happens. This part of our brain is fast and agile, and is able to multitask and manage multiple threads of logic at once to enable quick calculations and decisions. But it cannot do it infinitely. When dealing with too many concepts, it reaches its limit. That translates into a palpable sense of discomfort and produces fatigue and even anger. Closely linked to the prefrontal cortex is the amygdala, the primitive emotional center of our brain which controls out fight-or-flight response.
The prefrontal cortex crashes easily because it burns lots of calories coming from glucose or blood sugar which is metabolically expensive for the body to produce. The part of the brain that consumes less energy to run is the basal ganglia. It has huge storage capacity and that is where we can find the hardwired memories and habits that make our lives. That is so much easier indeed to do something without having to think about it! The basal ganglia controls habit-based behaviours and more or less run the show (and our life) most of the times.
Thankfully, our prefrontal cortex is also capable of insight and self-control. What does that mean for us as human beings? It means it is able to make us aware of our habitual impulses and do something about them.
So, in a nutshell, we have the power to make a decision about how much we want to be influenced by our animal biology.
So, how does one pacify his prefrontal cortex to avoid having an army of defenses being called in? By living epiphanies! Those moments of resolution or insight appear to be very soothing for the prefrontal cortex. Getting support to come to your own resolution regarding the concepts that cause your prefrontal cortex to crash down will lead to those moments of epiphany. It’s most likely that during one of those insightful moment (big or little), there is a reward system kicking in into the brain which calms down the prefrontal cortex. Just looking at a person’s face during one of these moments tells you that something positive is happening.
Coaching is the perfect way to come to those epiphanies moments. By asking questions to my clients, I allow them to voice their ideas and to focus on them. Both of those activities lead to more connections being made in the brain. By the simple fact of talking about their own ideas and developing them, there is more activity and connectivity in the brain than just hearing me giving them an idea.
Once my clients have this initial insight or epiphany that change is necessary, they need to repeat it to experience the potential pleasure derived from it, again and again, and again. The new brain connections that are formed during the epiphany need to be supported to hard-wire them into the basal ganglia and into solid memories and habits.
To erase a past habit that is strongly hardwired, you need to integrate the new pathway that is created so it can become your new pattern. This is the reason why it is so important I keep reminding my clients of their insights and I am constantly asking them about the actions they decided to take as a result to help them in their process. By learning new insights, they reframe the change they perceived as bad into something that could turn into an opportunity and be of value to them.