You might have heard the expression, “you get what you focus on.” But, have you heard that what you focus on actually reshapes your brain? The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in your brain. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write about how focused attention can physically change the structure of your brain in their article, “The Neuroscience of Leadership”, in “strategy+business” magazine.
Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:
- Paying attention reshapes your brain. Concentrated attention over time keeps relevant circuitry open. Eventually these circuits become physical changes in your brain’s structure. Attention continuously reshapes the patterns of your brain.
- People in different functions see the world in different ways. People who work in different specialties develop different physiological patterns that cause them to see the world in different ways.
This makes a lot of sense. I think this is just like any habit. You first think your way through something intellectually. Next, you start to develop emotional connections to something based on your experience. Finally, you burn it into your body, in terms of your muscle memory and basal ganglia. It makes sense that you would reshape your brain over time through consistent thought patterns.
Reshaping the Patterns of Your Brain
Rock and Schwartz write the following”
Concentrating attention on your mental experience, whether a thought, an insight, a picture in your mind’s eye, or a fear, maintains the brain state arising in association with that experience. Over time, paying enough attention to any specific brain connections keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. These circuits can then eventually become not just chemical links but stable, physical changes in the brain’s structure.
Attention continually reshapes the patterns of the brain. Among the implications: People who practice a specialty every day literally think differently, through different sets of connections, than do people who don’t practice the specialty. In business, professionals in different functions – finance, operations, legal, research, and development, marketing, design and human resources – have physiological differences that prevent them from seeing the world the same way.
I know I think differently based on the job I do everyday, if I compare how I solved problems in the past. Building prescriptive guidance forces me to be a continuous student of principles, patterns, and practices.
I never thought about whether my daily job created structural changes in my brain. However, now that I think about it, I remember that a colleague told me long ago that if you measure the brain activity between an expert and novice, that the expert would traverse way more connections, and it could actually take the expert longer to solve problems (more paths to check.)
I’ve also noticed the opposite though which is faster problem solving through intuition. Basically, when you fill your head with patterns and experience you can draw from your intuition. Your intuition can then make better, faster decisions through pattern matching plus mental simulation. This is how fire fighters, doctors, … etc. are able to make the right split-second decisions under the gun. They have a large body of patterns and experience to draw from. I think that’s the key distinction … if an expert uses logic, it takes them longer to think through the problem because of more paths to traverse, but if they use their intuition they are faster because they are simply doing rapid pattern matching against mental simulation.
The real question now is, am I missing out on any key thought patterns or capabilities because of the way my brain gets trained?
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