These are uncertain times.  We are confronted by COVID and don’t know how the future will be. This article is about how to rewire your brain to learning what you think you do not know.

Our brain is wired in such a way that it wants us to move away from uncertainty. Our thoughts then lead to emotions that often lead to behavior-patterns that may cause harm to our emotional well-being and resilience.  Most of these patterns happen unconsciously; but they take away a great deal of our energy, as you could read in the previous article “How resilient are you?”.

There are many helpful approaches to rewiring the brain circuits. According to neuroscience research, mindfulness practices dampen activity in our amygdala and increase the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Both of these parts of the brain help us to be less reactive to stressors and to recover better from stress when we experience it.

Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson write in their book, Altered Traits, that these changes are trait-like: They appear not simply during the explicit exercise to perceive the stressful stimuli mindfully, but even in the ‘baseline’ state for longer-term practitioners. This supports the possibility that mindfulness changes our ability to handle stress in a more sustainable way. Mindfulness brings you to the space of now knowing.

NOT knowing

Many authors explored the space of not knowing. Perhaps you already know this beautiful quote from Viktor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space, there is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Frankl knew how to rewire his brain.

In her book, Alchemy of fear, how to break the corporate trance and create your company’s successful future,  master coach and leadership consultant Kay Gilley presents four different ways of knowing.  She writes:

To be vulnerable to the truth, we must empty ourselves of what I think or what you think and make ourselves available to a higher standard of truth that embraces the wisdom of paradox and the unknown. Some call this place complexity… I like not-knowing”.

Gilley specifies the places of knowing and not knowing by two sets of possibilities and in between is the Power of the Question, as the key to knowing. This can be visualized in a scheme:

 

KNOWING:

I know I know

I know I don’t know

THE SPACE IN BETWEEN A and B: THE POWER OF THE QUESTION

NOT KNOWING:

I don’t know I know

I don’t know I don’t know

 

If you would ask a client who doesn’t know: “If you did know, what would you know?”, often the client then comes up with a story that seconds before he didn’t know. As if the client – by asking that simple question – had awakened from a trance. Another example: you can ask your elder-self the question about something you do not yet know now.

In the situation that “you don’t know that you don’t know”, you are in a mindset that you believe to be true something that is actually the opposite. For example, when a manager believes that his team will be motivated if he controls the team, trying harder to control will not work and will only bring more stress to the team. At that moment the manager doesn’t know that what he believes will actually have the opposite effect (so he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know).

Not knowing how the future will be, is an uncomfortable space to be, for individuals and for teams.  Pausing and intentionally asking questions to create time for others to think are crucial skills for coaches. My favorite questions to guide clients from not knowing to knowing are: “what if the opposite were true”, as Byron Kathie asks frequently, or “what if only 2 % of it were true?”, as applied with an exercise from Organization and Relationship-System Coaching  (ORSC).

Brains (and believe me ..  your brain too) are designed to keep us away from facing the fear of the consequences of the answers we might get. So, fear is then standing in our way.

Over the years, I’ve been in the uncomfortable space of not knowing.  You might even call those times crises. Every time I allow the time and space for questions that allow for new inner insights and decision-making and then I know what is good for me to In the last years, applied neuroscience has added evidence that we can rewire the brain.

Breathing and silencing the mind

Jon Kabat Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.

Mindfulness exercises are helpful when your thoughts go in circles; they make you pause and reflect in that space of not knowing.

Practicing mindfulness and focusing for many years has gradually become a way of being for me. Some very basic exercises that I practice daily are these:

  • About three times a day I practice deep belly breathing.  Neurozone advises using deep breathing as an effective way for silencing the mind because it optimizes the whole brain-body system.
  • Before going to sleep I do focusing exercises, a kind of body scan to relax. Focusing, like mindfulness, offers mind-body awareness exercises that help you find greater ease, clarity, and freedom from old emotional patterns. With some training, everyone can learn how to practice focusing. I always integrate some of these exercises into my coaching practice as well.

Of course, there are many other ways or techniques for rewiring the brain. However, even when you have been practicing these exercises for some years, you need to keep doing them regularly, and preferably daily, because they are contrary to the normal primitive reaction of the brain. We intentionally need to pause!

When we can hold ourselves more often and longer in the “space of not knowing”, pause and reflect, we can learn to improve our listening skills and generate collective intelligence.

Pausing is at the heart of our human ability to self-regulate and to stay in the silence of not knowing.  It suspends the usual reactions and rewires the neural networks.

Rewire your Brain, Let me help you

There is a myriad of helpful information about mindfulness and focusing on the internet, but that can be a lonely path. If you would like to explore this “space of not knowing” for yourself, I can help you find some effective ways to optimize your brain-body system. Moreover, transformational learning can only happen when done with others.

I also recommend that you improve your awareness about your resilience and Brain Performance Readiness and include the Neurozone assessment to design, together with your Neurozone coach, the optimal road map for your coaching-journey. I am certified in Conversational Intelligence and ORSC that offer practical interventions that support conversations. Neurozone adds a helpful framework from a neuro-perspective.

Click here to let me know if you would like me to keep you tuned in on that and have a journey together.

Stay safe, stay tuned,

Sonja