Did you ever react to someone or something and know it was not going to end well? Have you ever been triggered by a boss or colleague and behaved in a way that you knew was not going to be effective?
Sure, we all have. But did you ever stop to think why that happens?
The answer lies in brain patterns. As an executive performance and company culture coach, I know that the only thing getting in people's way of realizing what they are committed to is them. More specifically, the cause is neural brain patterns that shape their view or perspective of life, which in turn, is directly correlated to their actions.
Said in layman's terms, your default brain wiring may, at times, get in the way of your effectiveness when someone or some situation triggers you.
In speaking with fellow executive coach, senior MIT lecturer, neuroscientist and author of The Source: The Secrets of the Universe, the Science of the Brain, Dr. Tara Swart -- on an episode of my podcast Unmessable-- told me about a practical exercise she has her clients do to build new neural pathways in the brain, which allows for new behaviors to replace old ones that weren't necessarily productive.
Here's the four-step framework you can leverage to course-correct negative brain patterns:
Elevate your awareness.
"Start looking to move unconscious behavior into the conscious realm", Dr. Swart says. This can be hard to do alone and is something that I work on with clients all the time, but ultimately, you need to unveil blind spots -- things that affect you but are not even on your radar.
You might be asking yourself how you can uncover blind spots if they truly are in a blind spot, and I recommend to just look. Discoveries are made possible by inquiring, so start looking to see when certain people or situations annoy you. Perhaps it's a feeling in your stomach or maybe it's when you check out of a conversation. Start noticing the dynamics at play when you get triggered.
Look for opportune times to practice the desired behavior.
The first step was just to notice when and with whom you get triggered. And if you can do this, that's major progress.
To take it further, practice interrupting your default reactions when you sense a trigger is on the horizon. Whatever you would typically do in a moment of being triggered, like sending a snarky email or rolling your eyes or checking out of the conversation, don't. Just don't do it.
Disrupt the reflex of your behavior by taking a breath and stepping back. When the initial upheaval of emotions pass, ask yourself one question: what would be the most effective way for me to react to this right now?
Just the fact that you are asking yourself this question will give you the flexibility to more effectively handle the situation you are facing.
Deliberately practice your desired behavior every day.
Practice makes perfect, but know that it's not just any kind of practice. We are talking about "deliberate practice, which has a different level of intentionality and intensity,'' clarifies Dr. Swart.
Take running, for example. You can run four times a week for a year and perform at the same level, while if you deliberately practice with the intention of improving your endurance and you measure that, you can take tremendous territory in elevating your endurance over that same period. It's not just about doing it. It's about being intentional while you are doing it.
Think about deliberate practice not as practice, but rather the real thing. So when you get triggered, stop your autopilot machinery, ask yourself how should I react in this scenario to produce the best outcome, and execute on it.
Make sure you cannot get off the hook.
Put something in place where you will be held accountable for improving your behavior. For instance, maybe you sit down with a handful of team members at work or your boss and tell them, "I'm committed to developing myself as a leader but need your partnership. In one month, I would love to get your raw feedback of any progress you have noticed." Or hold an anonymous team review at the conclusion of one month.
If you have something concrete in a specific time period in which you must rise to the occasion, you will be much more likely to see progress and end up with the results you truly want.
Saying "that's just the way I am" is no longer an excuse you can reasonably use to justify a shortcoming. With this simple, yet powerful, proven neuroscience framework that helps forge new neural pathways in your brain, you can take your leadership skills to the next level.